Story behind Root developing wrists of magic to master spin (IANS Special)

Former Pakistan spinner Nadeem Khan has a habit of causing heartbreak to Indian fans without grabbing the limelight. The man who famously ran out Sachin Tendulkar during an Asian Test Championship match in Kolkata in 1999, triggering riots at Eden Gardens, also mentored India’s latest nemesis — Joe Root — and taught him initial lessons on how to play spin. Root was in school at the time.

“Joe came in the first team [Sheffield Collegiate Club in Yorkshire] at a very early age, 15 perhaps. I used to play there as a professional cricketer. The pitch at that time used to aid turn. Obviously, since he was much younger to others, he had no power to hit shots as the other players in the first team had,” Nadeem, currently Director (High Performance) with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), told IANS.

“Technically, he was very sound, his defence was very strong. For scoring options, he had to develop some strokes. You must have seen that he manoeuvres the ball a lot. He does that because he came in the first team at a very young age and manoeuvering was the only scoring option to him. Since he had less power, he had to learn manoeuvring the ball,” said the 51-year-old, who played two Tests and two ODIs for Pakistan in 1990s.

Ahead of the first Test match against India in Chennai, England captain Root credited his ability to play spin to his early training with Nadeem.

“We had a very good overseas pro in Nadeem Khan. I was able to practice against him all the time. I would speak to him all the time and even from 12-13 years of age, I had a good education on how to go about that side of the battle,” Root had said ahead of the first Test that England won by 227 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the four-match series.

Root scored 218 in the first innings of the first Test against India at Chennai as he continued his fine form on Asian surfaces after scores of 228 and 186 in the two Tests in Sri Lanka.

That Root possesses supreme skills to handle spin bowling is evident from his performnace; he averages 64.76 in India, 65.5 in Sri Lanka and 57.4 in the UAE, where he played Pakistan.

Nadeem, brother of former Pakistan wicketkeeper Moin Khan, points out that Root’s batting is quite different from other English batsmen who don’t manouevre as much and says that hours and hours of practice had helped him develop into a fine batsman against spinners.

“He plays very differently from other England batsmen; he manoeuvres a lot, plays with wrists, and that is why he is successful against spinners. Asian batsmen play with wrists and with the turn, and against the turn also; they play with the wrists. Root plays like that. [As I said] that developed early because the basic reason was that he came into the first team at a very young age. His scoring options were only the ones with which he could manoeuvre,” says Nadeem, who has seen him score plenty of 150-plus scores for his club against top teams and also against his club after he shifted to Yorkshire cricket academy for a couple of years.

“Also, we had pitches, especially at our club, that aided turn. On such pitches, he had to manoeuvre. That is why he developed the sweep shot, and also he plays very well through extra cover. Against the spin, you have to find gaps, so he developed the sweep shot,” he said.

Nadeem pointed out that 30-year-old Root, who played his 100th Test in Chennai, had done plenty of practice that has paid off.

“He used to do hours and hours of practice. He developed that at a very young age. We were close. I taught him the basics and then other coaches taught him further,” he said.

Nadeem also said that Root was identified as a future England leader as early as 17 at Yorkshire because of his dedication, focus, discipline. It helped that his father was a cricketer.

“He was dedicated, had great focus right from the start, and technically he was very sound. That is why everyone was saying he will one day play for England. At the age of 17, people at Yorkshire said he would be the future England captain. One of the reasons was his awareness of the game. His father, Matthew Root, plays for Nottinghamshire second XI. Young brother Billy also played cricket. That helped,” he said.

“Secondly, Root was always fond of discussing cricket right from an early age. I remember he would come to my restaurant and we would discuss cricket at length. His growth and grooming has been like this. He was disciplined. There were never any complaints of indiscipline against him. All these things contributed in him getting into leadership role and the England Cricket Board investing in him,” said Nadeem, who used to run a restaurant in England before returning to Pakistan 10 years ago.

Nadeem cited an example of how Root would take every aspect of his cricket seriously and seek to learn. During his under-19 days, one day Root called up Nadeem for help ahead of England colts’ match against Bangladesh. The England under-19 coach had said that he would be required to bowl off-spin.

“He called up and we practiced. We discussed setting fields, create changes etc. I think he picked a couple of wickets or so.”