Joe Root has experienced first-hand in his kitchen the ability of cricket to excite and inspire even the youngest wannabes. It is a power he hopes will rub off on “every living person in this country” during a World Cup and Ashes summer .
Alfred Root is now two and is already displaying the potential to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I watch him whack things, the enjoyment that he gets out of it,” Root smiles. “He doesn’t necessarily need a cricket bat either. It can be a spatula or anything that he can get his hand on, he’ll try and whack a ball with it.
“When you see that enjoyment in someone so young, there is no better feeling as a parent – seeing your child having fun and smiling and laughing. And that’s what you want to create for the next generation when they are watching cricket.”
England enter the World Cup as favourites and are a team that should excite everyone. They have a squad packed with talent. They are also one of the most diverse selections in history, which Root identifies as one of their greatest strengths.
There is a healthy geographic spread, and eight of the 15 named in the World Cup squad attended a state school. England’s two Muslim players are observing Ramadan, which will continue into the World Cup.
“One of the great things about playing cricket from a young age is that you learn about different parts of the world, different religions, different cultures and you have a much better understanding that you might not [have] in any other walk of life,” says Root.
“At the minute within our team, seeing Mo[een Ali] and [Adil] Rash[id], they are having to find days to fast around the games. Having that understanding within the team and making sure that everyone is aware of that, I think it does bond you tighter together.
“A really important part of the make-up of this group of players is that we are very open to that. We want everybody to be happy, to be able to feel like they can perform at their best and to succeed.”
It might help that Eoin Morgan, an Irishman and once an outsider, had his own obstacles to overcome before being accepted by the public, and media, as the one-day captain England so desperately needed. Root prefers to put any sense of a welcoming environment down to Morgan’s “personality in general”. He is, however, quick to emphasise the role this England side have in spreading cricket’s appeal, to everyone.
“Just the fact that there is going to be a huge amount of cricket played in England, on an international scale, is a great chance for this country to help try [to] grow the game,” says Root. “And that does not just mean people supporting England, it’s about people supporting every country worldwide.
“You talk about people being open to different cultures and religions, but different families too, who have migrated here over the years and still support India or Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or the West Indies,” says Root, in words that could not be more contrasting to those voiced by the Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, almost three decades ago, when he suggested that British Asians could not consider themselves English if they still supported the countries from which they, or their families, had migrated.
“We should be looking to inspire every living person in this country to play the game of cricket. Hopefully with this World Cup this is a great opportunity to do it.”
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In an otherwise perfect build-up, the potentially disruptive fast-tracking of Jofra Archer into the squad has been one of the few furores, with rivals for a place having previously expressed some dismay. Root feels it has been blown out of proportion.
“It is very easy to twist certain things,” says England’s Test captain, with an air of frustration. “Without going into too much detail, I remember Chris Woakes being quite upset about an article that was written and worded slightly differently to how it was intended.”
On a pragmatic level, England have a World Cup to win, and need their best players to do so. Root also wants the international side to be something that all strive to reach.
“We think it is a really important part of your journey, as an international player, that you come in and you want it to feel like it’s the pinnacle of the game,” explains Root.
“That you want to come back into that environment. You don’t want to think, ‘Well, I’d much prefer playing for Sussex,’ or your county. You want to think, right, if I’m only in for this one game and I go back to my county, I want to get back to there because everything about playing for England is that much better than anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
There is a lot of hope and optimism around England but the sport is still in decline. In a bygone era, the name of England’s Test captain would have been one on the lips of every schoolchild in the country. As it is, many will never have heard of Root. Has paywall television and a gradual diminishing in schools created a lost generation?
“We will see how things develop,” says Root. “With the power of social media now, the reach that the players do have, now more than ever, you could not be in a better place to move forward a sport like cricket if you do it smartly and well.
“In might be that in five, or 10, years cricket is aired on social media or there is a different platform to watch it for free anyway. Who knows? but as players you want to provide brilliant entertainment and that is what you [can] control.”
England’s players are certainly delivering on that front. Couple this with what Root feels is a decisive juncture in the coverage of sport, and with a new format and at least some free-to-air coverage returning next year, the chance for a new generation to be enthused by cricket seems there for the taking.
There’s a template already in place, too: the women’s World Cup which England hosted, and won, two years ago.
“That was a fantastic summer for the game,” says Root. “It provided a real platform to encourage more and more girls, and boys, to play cricket. And off the back of it opportunities grew as well.”
Root will hope many more Alfreds can be inspired to pick up a spatula and whack away this summer.
Joe Root is a NatWest ambassador, helping champion cricket at all levels as part of this year’s #NoBoundaries campaign, which will see NatWest continuing its work to ensure cricket remains a game for everyone no matter their background.
• A version of this article was originally printed in The Telegraph on 22 May 2019.