There have been many significant influences during Joe Root’s stellar career with Yorkshire and England, one which reaches the 100 Test caps milestone in India later this week. Childhood friend Josh Varley is certainly one of them.
Root and Varley, the first-team captain at the pair’s home club Sheffield Collegiate and a respected young coach, go way back.
“I’ve known Joe ever since he started playing cricket really,” explained the latter ahead of Friday morning’s first Test in Chennai.
“We went to the same school, and our parents are really good friends.
“Dore Primary School was our first school, then we went on to King Ecgberts. It was then probably Year 10 and Year 9 that Joe and Billy (Joe’s younger brother) went to Worksop College.
“I’m two school years below Joe (aged 30) and one below Bill.
“It would have been aged seven or eight that I remember first coming across Joe.”
Varley was name-checked in the media last summer by Joe as someone who he leans on coaching wise a lot when time allows. And it is no surprise given how close the pair are.
“Their family home is close to mine, and we were about a 10-minute walk away from the club (Abbeydale) as youngsters,” continued Varley. “We’ve obviously now both moved out, and we’re actually a bit closer to the club.
“In school holidays, instead of being 9-3 in school, it was 9-3 down at the nets. It was hard graft, probably harder than school actually!
“Mind you, for Joe, he probably saw a 9-3 session in the nets as down time. He will have done longer sessions in his time, no doubt.
“His attitude towards practice has always been first class. He’s never been afraid of asking for help or advice, and he was never scared of coming up against older players as a young lad.
“All myself and Bill wanted to do was smash it out of the nets and throw it as hard as we could. For Joe, there was a lot more thinking from a young age.”
In late 2012, when Joe made his Test debut in Ahmedabad, Varley recalls his feelings of pride and how those were mirrored by many at Sheffield Collegiate.
He said: “Matt, his dad, rang me late on to tell me it was happening, and the club was full at around 3am to watch him. It was a fantastic occasion.”
Circumstances mean that will not be happening again this Friday, but Varley admitted: “I will definitely be tuning in. I love my cricket. I love watching Yorkshire and England, and it’s a massive bonus that I get to watch my pal at the same time.”
Captain Root heads to India in rare form. He posted scores of 228 and 186 in the 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka, on the back of some extensive work with Varley over the last 12 months or so.
“We worked together two or even three times a week just before he went to New Zealand last winter,” said Varley.
“It’s great for my coaching to be able to work with someone like him. Who wouldn’t want to work with one of the best batsmen in the world?
“I absolutely love it, and listening to him talk about the game is brilliant.
“He has done wonders for me as a coach.
“But I can be wanging it down at him as hard as I can with a brand new ball, and he makes it look like I’m bowling 55mph spin at him. His class just shows through.”
Varley has recently left his post as junior head coach at Sheffield Collegiate and now runs a business in liquidation: “I’m working with a couple of other guys heavily involved with the cricket club, so I can easily get time off,” he said. “If Joe ever needs me, it’s not a problem.”
So what are his best memories of a young Mr Root?
“I played a lot with Joe from the juniors, and I could name you a lot of standout innings that he played,” he said.
“But the one that I always go back to was in 2012 when Collegiate’s firsts were struggling and we didn’t win many games at all.
“It was probably the last league game I played with Joe, and he had only just played for Yorkshire a couple of days beforehand and the England Lions not too long before that.
“But he came back with his dad, and they both played.
“He got 90-odd, and we won away at Doncaster.
“And that day summed him up as a person. He was desperate to help us out as a young team,.
“I knew it beforehand, but a lot of our other lads didn’t really know him. They soon realised what a great bloke he was and how approachable he was.
“It is not unusual at all to see him walking around the boundary at Collegiate when he has a Saturday off, and he’s so approachable – signing autographs, talking to people.
“He never leaves a bad impression on anybody.”
Root was outstanding in Sri Lanka last month to begin a landmark year for English Cricket, including home and away Test series against India, a home series with number one ranked side New Zealand and an away Ashes series.
He sailed beyond 8,000 Test runs in Sri Lanka (he has 8,249) and is very much in range of Sir Alastair Cook’s national record of 12,472 runs.
“I really don’t see why he shouldn’t break all manner of records, and break them by quite a bit because he’s such a fit and strong lad,” added Varley.
“He should have another six years in his prime at least.
“If I could have handpicked a place for him to start this year, Sri Lanka would have been very high up on my list. I think he’s in the top two or three in the world in terms of playing against spin.”