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Root feeling settled in England squad

George Dobell in Kolkata
December 2, 2012 « Kaymer clinches Nedbank prize | Chartbeat test »
Joe Root lost out to Nick Compton for the England opener spot but has taken the chance to get to know his tour mates © Getty Images
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Joe Root endured an unfortunate start to his first senior England appearance a few weeks ago. Root, who already looked as if he might have difficulty being served in a bar in London, turned up in an England blazer that, he reckons, was six or seven sizes too big for him.

It did nothing to alleviate the impression that this tour had come a year or two early for him. "It felt like I was wearing Chris Tremlett's blazer," Root said. "It was good fun, though, as it was a nice ice-breaker for the rest of the side to get to know me."

Root, 21 years old, is certainly fresh faced. But it would be wrong to read too much into that. After all, Alastair Cook and Sachin Tendulkar hardly looked like grisly old pros when they started. Sometimes a youthful face can hide a steely interior. Besides, you wonder if Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting might swap all those runs, all those centuries and all that success to be where Root finds himself right now: at the start of the journey.

Root is a talented young man with a bright future. Having developed through the same Sheffield Collegiate club side as Michael Vaughan, Root surpassed 1,000 first-class runs in his first full season in 2011 and impressed Graham Thorpe, England's lead batting coach, on the subsequent England Performance Programme (EPP) tours. He followed it with another solid season in 2012, helping Yorkshire secure promotion and winning the Cricket Writers' Club Young Player of the Year award. Geoffrey Boycott is among Root's many admirers.

Root admitted, however, that his first experience of the England dressing room had been somewhat intimidating. One of the downsides of central contracts, compared to many upsides, is that international players are rarely seen in the county game. And one of the downsides of the more professional approach that players have these days is that opponents do not so readily meet for a drink after play to chat about the game

"It was quite daunting walking into that room with guys you've spent the last five years watching on the telly," Root said. "They are heroes you look up to and the next minute you're training with them every day and learning from them. I didn't know them at all to be honest.

"But they've been brilliant. It's a great environment to be part of and everyone's really excited for the rest of the series. Everybody has been very good at making sure I'm welcomed into the side and Tim Bresnan, in particular, made sure everyone got to know me. That was really beneficial. It's been fantastic."

Root knows that this tour, for him, may well be about acclimatisation. With Nick Compton having been preferred to Root for the Test side and having taken his chance pretty well, Root has been relegated to the role of understudy. While there is an element of disappointment about that, Root also accepts that the time familiarising himself with the England dressing room, its characters, habits and work ethic will help him feel more comfortable if and when his chance comes.

"Any time spent around the team is valuable," he said. "It's good to almost ease your way in and you get great exposure to all the coaches and all the lads and it's brilliant to get some advice on board from everyone and a great learning opportunity. I'll just keep trying to get as much from this tour as I possibly can."

He showed he remains in decent touch with a century for the EPP squad last week. While the quality of the opposition was modest, Root took the opportunity to remind the selectors of his form and, should injury intervene, he insists he is ready.

"Everyone needs time in the middle," he said. "Especially when you've not been playing, you need to have the confidence that, if something does go wrong, if someone does go down, I've got a weight of runs behind me to stand me in good stead.

"I'll just be doing everything I can in the nets, working with all the coaches to try to improve my game and take as much from the tour as possible. And also to make sure that, if required, I'm ready to go."

That game also featured Steven Finn's comeback from injury. While no decision about Finn's involvement in the third Test has yet to be made - the next three days of training will define that - Root, at least, was impressed by the fast bowler's performance.

"He looked very dangerous," Root said. "He bowled fantastically well, took some wickets and got good overs under his belt. He bowled great areas and looked threatening like he always does. I think he's pretty happy with where he's at now, and interesting to see how things go over the next three days in training."

Part of Root's training involves working on his offspin. While he remains very much a part-time bowler at present - he claimed just one Championship wicket in 2012 - he knows that an ability to perform a role as second or even third spinner might, at some stage, make a crucial difference when it comes to selection.

"I'm working really hard on my bowling," he said. "I'm trying to take this opportunity of being part of this squad to be a better player and my bowling is definitely part of that. My aim is to improve and give the captain another option, so I have to be able to take some wickets or tie an end up."

The England squad, which now contains Ian Bell and James Tredwell, will resume training on Sunday when they take their first look at the much-debated pitch for the third Test at Eden Gardens. They spent Saturday helping a children's charity in Kolkata. While there may be much cynicism about sports people engaged in charity, no media were present on this occasion and no notice of their activity was published.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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