Should Joe Root Play in the IPL?

On December 23rd, the IPL mini auction will be held in Kochi. Squads will be finalized for the 16th Indian Premier League, before the world’s highest-profile T20 competition kicks off in May.

The usual English faces will be there. Jos Buttler will hope to replicate his record-breaking form from last year’s competition, blasting four centuries to be crowned ‘Player of the Tournament’. World cup hero Ben Stokes is also back and expected to fetch the big bucks on his return to India after last year’s hiatus.

A name most wouldn’t expect to see in the auction is Joe Root. Having not played a T20 international since May 2019, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 31-year-old’s career in the shortest format was finished. Yet come The 23rd, England’s red-ball phenom will be available for selection in India.

Root has never actually played in the IPL. In fact, he’s only entered the auction once, going unsold in 2018. Yet, with no salary expectation or preferred destination, could 2023 be the year that we finally see the golden boy of English cricket don the unnecessarily garish Indian colours?

Despite his recent absence, Root’s record speaks for itself. The right-hander averages an impressive 35.7 from his 32 T20 internationals. That’s more than every batter in England’s World T20 winning XI. winning 83 off 44 against South Africa in the 2016 World Cup? In pursuit of a record 230, Joe played an uncharacteristically aggressive knock, manoeuvring the pace of Rabada and Morris to hand England an outstanding victory.

The criticism most often leveled against Root in white-ball cricket is that he’s too slow. For some, a strike rate of 126.3 is simply too pedestrian for the modern game. But is it really? Root has often occupied the role of ‘anchor’ , running hard and rotating the strike to allow the big hitters greater opportunity.

Since Root’s axing, England have opted against the use of an anchor, favoring high-striking bats like Liam Livingstone instead. But when the pressure’s on, and the bowlers are on top – like when England lost early wickets in the recent World T20 final – having someone of Root’s undoubted quality would’ve been far more valuable than another big hitter.

Other countries certainly see the value of an anchor. Kane Williamson’s steady stroke play remains crucial to New Zealand, while Virat Kohli plays at his own pace for both India and the Royal Challengers Bangalore. The anchor is still very much in fashion in franchise cricket.

With all the discussion surrounding whether Joe will play in the IPL, it’s perhaps worth asking another question: should Joe play in the IPL?

Root is unquestionably England’s best Test player. Should he play in the IPL, concerns will be raised as to whether it would hammer his red ball form. We’ve seen in the past how an over-exposure to short format cricket can damage a batter’s red ball technique.

Take Johnny Bairstow for example. Having focussed predominantly on white ball cricket prior to the 2019 World Cup, Bairstow found his technique ineffective against Australia’s skilful pace attack in that year’s Ashes series. become overly bottom handed and reckless when driving. While advantageous in ODI and T20 cricket, these traits proved fatal in the Test arena. The result? Jonny averaged an abysmal 23.78 against the Aussies. Should Root play in the IPL, fears of a similar drop in form will arise.

However, it’s the example of Bairstow, and batters like him, that proves exactly why Root should be playing T20 cricket. After his dip in form, Johnny returned to the Test side for the 2021/22 Ashes, having made several technical changes. Said changes paid dividends, his stellar 113 in Sydney was England’s sole hundred in the series and a rare highlight in what was a miserable tour. Since then, the right hander has been on fire – a swashbuckling century in the Caribbean was just the prelude to a record-breaking summer.

Against New Zealand, Bairstow blasted England’s second fastest ever hundreds off 77 balls, before striking a thunderous 162 off 157 in the next game. Two further monstrous tons would come against India only a match later.

True to England’s new ultra-attacking philosophy, Bairstow was aggressive throughout the summer, unfurling a plethora of brutish shots, all learned and perfected playing T20 cricket. In the long run, his experience of playing for franchises has undoubtedly over helped his game, allowed him to play with the freedom and creativity of a player set free.

Joe Root is a wholly different player to Johnny Bairstow, of course, both in temperature and technique. However, a stint in India could still be beneficial for the Yorkshireman. If the recent Rawalpindi Test has proved anything, it’s that ‘Bazball’ is here to stay. There were switch-hits and scoops aplenty as three of England’s day one centuries came at over a run a ball. The IPL offers Root an opportunity to hone his attacking skills, testing his stroke-play against some of the world’s best bowlers .

Whether or not Root will be selected come the 23rd remains to be seen. Overseas spots are limited and each team is on a budget. However, at a relatively cheap price point, there are several teams that could snap him up.

With the largest purse and a Kane Williamson shaped hole to fill, the Sunrisers Hyderabad could be a natural landing spot. There’s also Kings XI Punjab, who’ve recently hired former England coach Trevor Bayliss. Having coached Root to World Cup glory in 2019, A Root / Bayliss reunion could be on the cards in Punjab.

Another possible destination is Chennai, where Root could team up with Moeen Ali for the Super Kings. The turning Chepauk pitch would allow the right-hander to face a lot of spin in CSK yellow, against which his strike rate is significantly higher. A handy Bowling option too, Root’s part time off-spin could prove useful for the four-time champions.

Should he be selected or not, Joe Root remains eager to play in the Indian Premier League to test himself and improve his attacking game:

“Now, the next couple of years, might be a good time to explore playing a little bit more of that format and to see how far I can take that side of my game”, said Root to the Mail on Sunday. “It’s especially valid because of how we are trying to play now as a Test team.”

I wonder what Brendon McCullum would prefer him to do?

Will Symonds

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