Exclusive: Joe Root talks England captaincy and dirty nappies after Headingley unveiling

It is a journey he has made hundreds of times before but yesterday, as he drove through the gates of Headingley to face the media for the first time as England captain, Joe Root admits it was a special, special feeling.

He’s had a few of those; both over the course of his career so far and over the last six weeks, which has seen him become a father for the first time and assume the England captaincy.

The two interlinked nicely on Sunday when Andrew Strauss, the head of English cricket, phoned Root to offer the job while he was in the middle of changing baby son Alfie’s nappy.

“It’s been an amazing few days and, to be honest, a bit of a whirlwind,” Root told The Star at Headingley.

“To get the opportunity to lead my country makes me really proud and a lot of captains are unveiled at Lord’s, so it was great to have it at my home ground of Headingley.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a small boy, so in a way it’s come full circle I guess, but it felt extra special today - everything since I got the call has been special, to be honest.

“Even down to changing Alfie’s dirty nappies, I’ve found myself doing that with a huge smile on my face!

“It’s just something that comes with the job and I’m looking forward to getting going. It’s a very exciting period for me, and hopefully for English cricket.”

A first taste of Headingley for Root came when, at 13, he became the youngest scholar in Yorkshire’s proud history. Kevin Sharp, then the batting coach, put the youngster through an intensive session in a story that has become legend over the past week or so. At the end, he told a colleague that Root would one day open the batting for Yorkshire.

He arrived a boy and yesterday, he left a man; even if his designer stubble still fails to mask that cherubic appearance.

Joe Root is unveiled as England captain

Joe Root is unveiled as England captain

Root, just turned 26, dealt with this heightened media spotlight with the air of a man who’d been in the top job for years, rather than days, and a recurring theme was his determination to put his own stamp on a job that he seemed destined for ever since he attracted the nickname ‘future England captain’, or ‘FEC’ as a youngster at Sheffield Collegiate.

The ‘F’ was dropped officially on Sunday when Strauss called to offer him the job - Root admits it was a short conversation, and not just because he was elbow deep in fatherly duties with Alfie.

“His name flashed up and I was just desperate to find out what he had to say,” Root, who had met with Strauss to interview for the job last week, admitted.

“We didn’t say much - we didn’t have to, really, because I accepted straightaway.

Joe Root is unveiled as England captain

Joe Root is unveiled as England captain

“He told me it’s a call that you only get once in your life, and only a very select and lucky few have received it.

“I accepted straightaway. It’s the biggest honour in the game, simple as that, and I’ve got the chance to be at the forefront of an exciting England side as we face some big cricket in the next few months. I can’t wait to get started.”

The wait will go on, as England’s red-ball summer doesn’t kick off until early July when they face South Africa in a four-match series.

Then England host the West Indies - the second of three Tests held at Headingley - before the big one, a winter tour to Australia to try and retain the Ashes and exorcise some demons of the last trip Down Under, when they lost 5-0 and Root was dropped for the final Test.

“I’ve had to overcome quite a few challenges so far in the international environment,” he admits, “so I think I’ll cope pretty well with the captaincy.

“The thought of leading this team excites me. I don’t think it’ll change me as a person and the added responsibility will hopefully help my game. It’ll certainly motivate me to become a better player and really lead from the front.”

15 February 2017......     Yorkshires Joe Root, the new captain of England Cricket team photocall at Headingley. Picture Tony Johnson.

15 February 2017...... Yorkshires Joe Root, the new captain of England Cricket team photocall at Headingley. Picture Tony Johnson.

That could be a frightening prospect for England’s future opponents. Root already averages almost 53 with the bat and since his debut in 2012, no player on the planet has scored more Test match runs than his 4,594.

The last of the ‘fantastic four’ in world cricket to get their country’s top job, Root can also take heart from the records of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson after their ascension to the throne. Kohli’s batting average is 26 runs higher than before, Smith’s 22. Williamson bucks the trend slightly, adding six, but that is the company Root finds himself amongst and clearly captaincy isn’t always the millstone around the neck, or the bat, that it can appear.

Next up is a white-ball tour to the West Indies but planning will have already started for July in Root’s mind, and the smart money is on a reversion to the No.4 role where he so excelled. The experiment of moving him up a place last summer exposed a middle order that looked fallible without him and, with the emergence of Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed, Root can happily leave those two to fight for places one and three around his predecessor Alastair Cook, shorn of the captaincy and with a renewed determination to chase down every record in English cricket.

And beyond that? As Root did with Michael Vaughan, the former Collegiate man who went on to captain England to the 2005 Ashes, kids at Abbeydale will be looking up at an England captain who once trod the path they walk along.

“We have a duty to inspire kids and we should always grasp the opportunity to do that,” Root added.

“Having Michael at Collegiate inspired me as a youngster and made the life goal of captaining England seem that little bit more realistic and achievable.

“Here was someone from the same background and club as me, going all the way.

“Collegiate is a special club, and the opportunities they gave me were fantastic. I am hugely indebted to them.

“If someone is there looking up to me the way I looked up to Michael, then fantastic. There are a couple of good young players there, so hopefully there’s one not far down the line who can go all the way.”

It was a day for looking back but, going forward, questions still linger.

How well will new skipper Root work alongside old, and will the responsibility hamper his excellent stats?

One national newspaper journalist even mused that, if a team has 11 good players and a support staff, is the role of skipper needed at all?

But they can wait. For this was Root’s day. A new dawn. A special day.