Joe Root: Captaining England will drive me forward as a batsman
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 03/07/17 1:45pm
As he gazes across Bramall Lane from his seat in the South Stand, Joe Root makes reference to the solitary Test match played at this old ground some 115 years ago.
England's new Test captain is a Sheffield United fan and had doubled back to collect his phone upon realising the route we were taking, so as to record his walk down the players' tunnel and emergence onto the pitch, but it is telling that it is the thought of cricket, last played in the stadium in 1973, that first comes to mind.
Root possesses a level of knowledge and an appreciation for the history of the game that is evident once more when asked about his predecessors and which of their traits he would like to embody in his new role.
"There are a number of great examples," Root told Sky Sports. "If you look at someone like Nasser [Hussain], he made a side that was very hard to beat and that is a great quality to have.
"Similarly, Michael Vaughan at the other end of the spectrum, winning that Ashes series playing very aggressive, attacking cricket.
"A balance of those two and someone like Mike Brearley - I know it's probably a bit before my time - but the way he was able to manage so many big characters, all in one dressing room, and get the best out of them, turn a series around against Australia - a culmination of all those things would be ideal for anyone."
For all his expertise, his experience of playing in 53 Tests and even the ability he has shown as a batsman to read the game and assess situations, Root admits that he is a novice when it comes to captaincy.
It is something that he could not be any more honest about but while some would have spent the months since being appointed as captain agonising over plans, looking at the most minute of details to try and compensate, the 26-year-old Yorkshireman has no intention of constraining himself and his team with an overly-regimented approach.
"I've had bit of time thinking about how things might work out and, in terms of planning, a few meetings here and there," Root said.
"But I want it to be quite natural, not have all these grand plans in place and then something change or not go to plan and then feel like you're back to square one. I want to be quite instinctive with it from the start.
"Of course, you want to feel really prepared and give yourself the best chance to do a good job but I think [being instinctive] has been one of my big strengths as a player, as a batsman, and I think it would be silly not to go with something that has served me so well in other departments.
"I wouldn't say I'm necessarily a natural leader but becoming more senior within the side and being vice-captain over the last few years will definitely help in that respect.
"You want to lead by example in terms of weight of runs and how you go about things in training but we'll have to wait and see.
"There are so many things you can want to do as a captain before you take on a new role but before you're faced with certain situations and scenarios it's very difficult to tell how you would act in that moment."
There is no pretence with Root, he is polite and unassuming, off the field at least, but he is not simply going to tell somebody what they want to hear.
The chief concern when he was handed the Test captaincy was how it might affect his batting. Would the added responsibility help or hinder his performances out in the middle?
"To be honest, I'm not really sure yet and because I've not done very much of it, it's difficult to tell," is his typically up front response. "I've felt like over the last few years, the more responsibility I've been given, I've generally responded quite well to it.
"I think it's a really good opportunity to take my batting further and try and develop it even more, use that responsibility to try and drive me forward and keep improving, making those big scores and set an example for the rest of the guys on making really big, match-winning contributions."
The good news for Root is that he is taking over a side filled with players capable of producing such match-winning performances. Not least, his vice-captain, Ben Stokes.
"He is going to play a massive role," Root said. "You've seen how his cricket has developed over the last year or so and he is the sort of person, the more you give him, the more you get from him.
"I think it's great that he's got this chance to become a bit more of a leader in the dressing room, as vice-captain.
"He is very good at setting the tone at practice, out in the middle you always feel that he is someone you can turn to to change the game and wrestle momentum back in your favour.
"So he, along with the other senior guys like Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Cooky, obviously, will be massive for us moving forward."
Root has spoken previously about wanting to make England fans love the Test team as they do the white-ball team. That was widely seen as an indication of the attacking mentality the Sheffield-born batsman hoped to instil in his side.
But while he wants his side to entertain, his primary goal is to win and he feels it is time for this group of England players to start doing so more often in red ball cricket.
"I think the group of players we've got allows us to play a style of cricket that is very enjoyable to watch," Root explained.
"It's trying to get the balance between allowing the guys to go out and play with freedom but, at times, realising 'this is a very important session that we have to make sure we win' and being on the right side of that, when previously it might have gone against us and ultimately cost us a series or a game.
"There are obviously some challenges like that ahead of us but there is nothing we're not capable of doing. I see this as a really good opportunity for us as a group to move forward - a bit of natural progression.
"We got a group of players who have gained a lot of experience now and it's time that everyone stepped up and took that added responsibility on."
England's first opportunity to show their new leader that they are capable of doing just that comes on Thursday, in the first Test against South Africa, at Lord's.
In recent times, home series against the Proteas have signalled the end for England captains but for Root, almost five months since his appointment, this is just the beginning - and he can't wait to get started.
"I hope it's not the end," he said. "It's exciting and, as I said earlier, I see it as a great opportunity and I just want to get out there now, it's felt like forever waiting to get that opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it.
"It's going to be very special leading the team out but I need to make sure that my mind is focused on that first ball so that if someone nicks one to slip, I'm there to catch it and not elsewhere mentally. But, again, it's something that I will have to wait and see what happens."
He may not have all the answers, nor will he pretend otherwise, but in Root, England have a Test captain with undoubted cricket acumen, an unerring trust in his instincts and a refreshingly honest approach. Whether that translates into on-field success, like the man himself, we will have to wait and see.
Watch Joe Root's first Test as captain when England take on South Africa from 10am on Sky Sports 2 next Thursday.