Joe Root’s timing is usually faultless so it’s surprising to hear him admit he missed the call from national selector Ed Smith on Monday that informed him of his place in England’s World Cup squad.
Unlike some other players, Root, one of the best batsmen of his generation and the rock at No3 in this one-day side, was never in danger of missing the tournament.
However, now the formalities have been taken care of, the Yorkshireman is just desperate to get a huge summer of cricket, that also includes a home Ashes series, off and running with next Thursday’s opening World Cup match against South Africa.
“I had to ring him back I was busy,” Root said of Smith’s call. “It’s always nice to get the nod. It’s nice to feel it’s finally upon us and we’re not waiting around for it any more. We can just get to it and start what feels like an incredibly exciting summer.
“We’ve felt like we’ve been building towards something and I think we’ve done extremely well. We’ve made the most of every opportunity we’ve had leading into this tournament, prepared very well and deserve the tag of favourites going into it.
“We should embrace that, make the most of it, enjoy it and continue to play in the same manner we have done now for the last two years because when we are at our best we’re a very difficult side to beat and to play against.”
After sweeping aside Pakistan 4-0 to collect their 10th ODI series win in 11, England’s final tune-up before the World Cup sees them play two warm-up games – against Australia at Southampton tomorrow and Afghanistan at The Oval on Monday.
Not that Root is taking anything for granted. “We have to be very respectful,” he says. “There are a lot of other good sides in the tournament as well and there are some quality players and quality teams that are more than capable of playing very well in these conditions.”
The format of the World Cup, with everyone playing everyone in a single group, should, barring a catastrophic collapse, see England at least make the semi-finals. At that point anything can happen.
No wonder then that the players are being extra vigilant about maintaining the standards that have taken them to the top of the world over the past four years.
That has seen Root assess his own contribution during the Pakistan series – just one half-century in four innings – particularly harshly, with England’s Test captain admitting he was too experimental and “dumb” to try and copy the team’s big hitters such as Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Jos Buttler.
“I think trying to hit the left-arm spinner over mid-off five times in two games and nearly get out four times to it is a bit dumb really and it’s not what I’m about in that format,” he said.
But the team as a collective have, insists Root, become much more street-smart since they crashed out of the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in Cardiff two years ago, a match where they struggled to adapt to a slow, spin-friendly pitch.
“I think if anything one area we’ve got better at is that we are a little bit more able to read situations slightly quicker – which was probably our downfall at Cardiff,” he said.
“We can adapt to that and reassess and not think ‘today we’re going to get 400’. Today 310 might be a really good score or 280 and we have to have trust and faith in our bowlers to defend that.
“So as I say, it’s great to be in this position where we feel we are well prepared, we feel we are ready and we just want to get on with it now to be honest.”
Root was speaking last week at the launch of England’s new World Cup kit – a powder blue retro homage to the one worn by Ian Botham et al during the 1992 tournament when a team led by Graham Gooch reached the final in Melbourne.
“I love it, I think it’s great,” Root said. “You look at that ’92 World Cup and that’s the one that sticks out in everyone’s mind, the one where England have played their best cricket. I think it’s an opportunity for us to sort of take that into this tournament and hopefully go one better as well.”
After the World Cup, there is little time for England – and Root in particular as Test captain – to prepare for the Ashes.
With places up for grabs, particularly top-order batting spots, the selectors will be watching the County Championship closely over the coming weeks. Joe Denly, who narrowly missed out on a World Cup place, Ben Foakes and Rory Burns will all be keen to stake their claims.
Others, too, from outside the current set-up will also hope to impress in Championship cricket.
However, Root, presumably referring to Roy, James Vince and Jofra Archer, believes some players could make a compelling Ashes case during the World Cup itself.
He said: “It’s important the selectors spend a good amount of time watching county cricket, making sure they’re very aware of who’s performing well, who’s going to add to what’s a very good, strong squad of players and make sure we are in the best positon possible.
“Also look at performances throughout the World Cup as well – see if there’s a cross-over and if there are guys who have shown things that will stand up well in Ashes cricket.
“Then they can marry everything together and give everything a fair assessment. We’ve got a very difficult challenge, slightly different to the World Cup squad but in the same way a very difficult selection process going into that first Test match.
“It’s just so exciting, it’s non-stop this summer and it’s felt like it’s non-stop but it’s not started yet.”
CHRIS STOCKS / Photo: Getty Images