Chris Stocks discovers that England’s prolific run-scorer will be losing sleep during the series against South Africa
Joe Root admits he struggles to sleep during Test matches but after the stellar year he has had with the bat it would be no surprise if South Africa’s bowlers were also tossing and turning in their beds at night in the run-up to the series opener in Durban on Boxing Day.
Root’s 2015 has been phenomenal, with 2,131 international runs at an average of 47.95 across all forms of the game.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the format, conditions or opponents are, the Yorkshireman has been on a golden run of form that has seen him become arguably the finest batsman in world cricket.
In Tests that’s a status he officially holds, Root’s 1,288 runs, including three hundreds and a remarkable nine half-centuries, seeing him ranked the world’s No.1 batsman.
England are lucky to have him and it still beggars belief that in this Ashes-winning year, the world’s best Test batsman was overlooked even for the shortlist of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
For now, though, the 24-year-old – yes, he is still not even close to the peak years of his career – is focusing on the challenge of taking down the world’s No.1 team in their own backyard
“It’s obviously exciting because for a lot of the guys it’ll be their first tour of South Africa,” he says. “It’s a fantastic country as well. We’re really looking forward to playing in their conditions against the best in the world.
“It can get quite tough at times when we spend a lot of time away from home and away from our families but that’s something you have to deal with and you get used to over time as well.
“We’ve got a fantastic opportunity of playing for England, playing international cricket and I absolutely love that.
“Now we’re playing the No.1 side in their own conditions, they’ve got a fantastic bowling attack and I’ll make sure I do all the work in practice to try to make sure I’m performing at my best come that first Test match.”
I’ve no idea why I don’t sleep well; the adrenaline of playing, the excitement, it’s just the way my body works
Whatever happens at Kingsmead, Root’s restfulness at night will probably come to the fore once again. “I’ve no idea why I don’t sleep well,” he says. “The adrenaline of playing, the excitement, thinking about what could happen, all the different possibilities, that’s just the way my body works.
“It’s quite strange. It’s something I probably need to get better at. I think as well you always feel under pressure in the games. It is a nice feeling when you finish a Test and you actually get a nice day off where you can just get a good kip in.”
The individual honour of becoming the world’s No.1 batsman means a lot not just to Root but also his family, especially grandfather Don who spent years driving a young Joe around Yorkshire to ensure he got to every practice session and match he was involved in.
And it’s a debt Root partially repaid after England wrapped up their Ashes-clinching victory against Australia at Trent Bridge back in August.
“Grandad Don was very instrumental in helping me get to where I’ve got to,” Root says with no hint of irony in his unintentional pun. “He took me to various different games all over the country obviously when mum and dad were at work so I can’t thank him enough for all the support he gave me, as well as the rest of my family.
“It was really nice at the end of the summer when we won at Trent Bridge, he came into the dressing room and was able to enjoy the celebrations with us.
“He absolutely loved it. I think he enjoyed the champagne more than anything!
“He was absolutely thrilled to bits to just be a part of it all and it was nice to see a massive smile on his face and to pay back a huge amount of debt that I’ve built up over the years.”
When he wasn’t being ferried around by mum Helen, dad Matt or grandad Don, Root would dream of playing for England in impromptu games at home with younger brother Billy, who made his County Championship debut for Nottinghamshire last summer.
“Always,” he says. “When you’re messing around, even in the front drive or the garden, you always aspire to emulate your heroes.”
One of those heroes was Michael Vaughan, the former England and Yorkshire captain who also played cricket at the Root family club, Sheffield Collegiate.
Before he made his debut for Yorkshire, in a one-day match against Essex at Headingley in 2009, Vaughan sent Root, then aged 18, a message wishing him luck and encouraging him to follow his dream of playing for England.
Since then, the Sheffield-born batsman admits he has to pinch himself to believe he has come so far in the game in such a short space of time.
He said: “To think about that point then to where I’ve got to now, it’s been fantastic, I’ve loved every minute of it.
“For someone like that [Vaughan] to say something as nice as that has always been really encouraging and helped me get to where I am now.
“It has surprised me quite a lot. I’ve been lucky to have been given lots of opportunities to show people what I can do.
“I’ve obviously worked very hard along the way as well but sometimes you do have to pinch yourself and just remember how lucky you are.”
Yet Root’s rise since making his Test debut against India at Nagpur three years ago has had nothing to do with luck.
Even then he showed nerves of steel to score 73 in his first international innings to help Alastair Cook’s side to a draw that ultimately won them their first Test series in India for 27 years.
That knack of performing in pressure situations is something he made his trademark.
“That’s the game isn’t it?” says Root. “You’ve got to try to make sure you’re always performing under pressure and always contributing to the team. It’s nice to be in a position at the moment where I’ve been able to do that and be part of such a fantastic team over the last 12 months.
“To be a part of that Ashes-winning summer was just fantastic.”
To be part of a team which won in South Africa would probably top even that.
With Root in this kind of form, England have every chance.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday December 18 2015