'I've never had more fun playing professional cricket' – Root relishing England's rapid progress

By Sports Desk September 13, 2022

Joe Root declared he has "never had more fun playing professional cricket" after England's terrific red-ball form continued with a 2-1 series victory over South Africa.

Having recorded memorable triumphs over New Zealand and India since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over as the side's captain and coach partnership, England enjoyed further success as they sealed a nine-wicket victory over the Proteas at The Oval on Monday.

England have now claimed four consecutive series wins over South Africa, and have won six of their seven Tests under the new regime.

They have also earned widespread praise for their adventurous style under McCullum – dubbed 'Bazball' – and Root has been impressed by their rapid progress.  

"It's been absolute class," the former skipper said. "It's been great to be part of, so much fun to play the way we have played, and to win six out of seven is a reflection of the quality with which we've played. 

"It makes the winter and beyond look very exciting for this team. To know there's still more potential and areas we can improve is the most exciting part of it. 

"We're definitely not the finished article, but to see the strides we've made in such a short space of time has been a breath of fresh air. 

"I'm buzzing about it, to be honest, looking forward to the next series already!

"I've never had more fun playing professional cricket. Honestly, it is hard to put into words. You turn up every day, and you're very excited about what's going to happen. It's the unknown. 

"It's quite a strange feeling to have played 120-odd games, still to have that feeling when you turn up every day. 

"It's a really good place to be. It keeps you very hungry and motivated. You can bounce off the energy of everybody else who is in the same mindset."

Root then compared England's development to that of the country's one-day side, who won the 2019 World Cup following a change in style under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan.

"Some of the things we'd never seen before in Test cricket happened in a short space of time. It's nice to know what we're capable of," he added. 

"It almost feels like - I hate drawing the comparison, but there is a small feeling of what it was like when we started to make those really big scores in the white-ball team. 

"That's the exciting thing - what is the limit, how far can we go? 

"You look at what that team has achieved over a period of time. I know it is early days and a lot of different elements to Test cricket, compared to the white-ball format, but it is very exciting that there is the same sort of vibe around, in my mind anyway."

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    England's record-breaking start to the first Test against Pakistan was a prime example of the aggressive style implemented by Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, says Ollie Pope.

    Pope joined Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett and Harry Brook in making his century as England closed on 506-4 after an incredible display in Rawalpindi, becoming the first team to make 500 runs on day one of a Test and beating Australia's previous record of 494 runs against South Africa from 1910.

    England have produced several fine batting displays since McCullum and Stokes took over as head coach and captain this year, leading Pope to hail the squad's willingness to buy into their ideas.

    Speaking to Sky Sports after helping England make a historic start to their first Test in Pakistan since 2005, Pope said: "I think it's the ideal start to the tour!

    "We really listened to what Baz and Stokesy have said. It was an amazing day.

    "The best thing is everyone has lived by how the two guys up top want us to play. 

    "They want us to entertain people. It is not about milestones. It is about putting on a show and putting the team in a good position. 

    "The fact everyone is so happy to buy into that puts us in a really good place."

    Meanwhile, Duckett's ton saw him make a dream return to England's red-ball side after a six-year hiatus, leaving the 28-year-old in disbelief.

    "Very special, pretty crazy day and a crazy build-up to the Test match. For me personally, it's a special day, it's one I didn't think that'll come around," Duckett said.

    "I don't think there will be a better environment to be involved in. I am sure there will be a lot of cricketers in England who will want to be part of it. It went well today.

    "It helps being in these conditions, I knew it was going to be nice batting conditions. The T20 series [in Pakistan] was a big confidence thing for me."

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    A virus in the tourist camp threatened to delay England's first five-day game on Pakistan soil since 2005 but by stumps it was Pakistan who were feeling sick at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium as the visitors closed on 506-4.

    Having reached 174-0 by lunch, the most runs scored in the first session of a Test, Crawley reached three figures early after the restart having overturned an lbw decision on review a few balls earlier.

    His hundred came off just 86 balls, the fastest for an England opener, while Duckett – who returned at the top of the order for his first Test in six years – seized his opportunity to also reach three figures.

    A missed sweep off Zahid Mahmood (2-160) sent Duckett (107) packing lbw and Crawley (122) soon became debutant Haris Rauf's (1-78) first Test victim.

    Joe Root (23) fell cheaply after a swift half-century stand with Pope but that was Pakistan's only real spell on top as the latter piled on the runs with Brook.

    Together, they made put on 176 for the fourth wicket as Pope (108) celebrated a third Test century prior to falling leg-before for Mohammad Ali's (1-96) maiden Test scalp.

    Brook (101no) went on to make his first Test ton as England became the first team to make 500 runs on day one of a Test in what was a glorious display of what has become dubbed 'Bazball'.

     

    CRAWLEY AND DUCKETT SET THE TONE

    Crawley and Duckett were the perfect foil on admittedly ideal conditions for scoring, the former driving to the covers at will, while the latter swept with impeccable timing.

    England have had well-documented issues at the top of the order and Duckett, playing in just his fifth Test, laid down a big marker on his return to the team.

    POPE AND BROOK GO FOR THE JUGULAR

    There was a very fleeting spell from Pakistan in the second session but all in all it was a day of toil for the hosts' bowling unit.

    Pope was fluent throughout and Brook, who looks a star in the making, was rapid with his knock including six fours from as many balls off Saud Shakeel in the 68th over.

    Brook had two maximums and 14 fours. He will return to the crease with captain Ben Stokes (34no) on Friday.

  • Labuschagne and Smith reach double centuries as Australia leave West Indies a mountain to climb Labuschagne and Smith reach double centuries as Australia leave West Indies a mountain to climb

    Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith made double centuries as Australia piled on the runs against West Indies at Perth Stadium, achieving a feat last witnessed over a decade ago.

    Not since Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke plundered double tons against India in January 2012 had any pair of batters made 200-plus scores in the same innings of a Test match.

    This first Test saw Australia follow up their opening-day dominance with more commanding batting to reach 598-4 on Thursday, before West Indies rallied to reach 74-0 at stumps, with debutant Tagenarine Chanderpaul closing in on a half-century.

    Labuschagne had been 154no overnight, and Smith was with him on 59, and they went on to post 204 and 200no respectively, sharing in a third-wicket stand of 251 runs. It was a second Test double century for Labuschagne, and a fourth for Smith.

    Australia declared when Travis Head was dismissed on 99, edging the 95th ball of his innings into his stumps to give West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite a second wicket, ending a 196-run alliance with Smith.

    In reply, Chanderpaul, son of West Indies great Shivnarine Chanderpaul, powered to 47no as Brathwaite battled to 18no, offering hope the tourists may be able to show sufficient defiance to still take something from this match, the first of two in the series.

    Smith joins Bradman

    Smith's century, which became a double, was his 29th ton in Tests, moving him level with the great Don Bradman on the all-time list. He and Bradman share fourth place among Australia century-makers, behind Ricky Ponting (41), Steve Waugh (32) and Matthew Hayden (30).

    Chanderpaul a chip off the old block

    Facing the full assault of Australia's pace attack, Chanderpaul did not always look comfortable against Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, but he found a way to survive to the close.

    Dad Shivnarine made 11,867 Test runs for West Indies, so Tagenarine is just 11,820 behind now. More relevantly, perhaps, Shivnarine made 62 in his first Test innings, against England in Georgetown in 1994. After this strong start, West Indies will hope his son can go significantly past that score on Friday.

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