A year away from history is Matthew Fisher’s view of Joe Root and his England Test side after their famous opening Test win against India in Chennai earlier this week.
Captain Root underpinned a sixth successive away Test win with a second double century of the year – a first-innings 218.
England won the final three Tests to clinch their series in South Africa last winter before winning 2-0 in Sri Lanka last month, when Root posted scores of 228 and 186.
Home and away, England have now won their last four Test series.
After the ongoing series in India, they host the same opponents at home this summer as well as world number one ranked New Zealand. They then travel Down Under for an Ashes series either side of Christmas.
“This is a very, very big year for England, and if Rooty can be in form for the whole year and England win in India and Australia, it will put him up there amongst the very best players ever in the world in my opinion,” said Yorkshire fast bowler Fisher.
“Players get judged on their performances in big games and big series, and there are non bigger than India and Australia.
“In terms of captaincy, Ricky Ponting gets so much respect for the runs he scored and the series won with the Australian team he had. And I think Rooty could go into a similar category if England win these series.
“I read a tweet the other day that said since England won the series in India in 2012, India have only lost one Test (against Australia in 2017). That is incredible.
“The way Root and Anderson performed in particular, you just don’t have any words.
“Rooty, you can see his plan, but the bowlers can’t do anything about it because he’s executing it so well. He’s at the top of his game.
“In that first innings, it felt like he could have done whatever he wanted.
“He was just playing low-risk cricket, and every shot he played seemed to come out of the middle of the bat. But he could probably have gone and got a 50-ball hundred if he’d have wanted.
“He’s in the prime form of his career, and it’s been fascinating to watch.”
You regularly hear sportsmen or women asked about chasing the perfect performance. But it is such a cliched question because what do you class as perfection?
Fisher continued: “Before a game, you could say, ‘Right, we want 1,000 runs in the first innings and then bowl the opposition out twice for 50’. That would be perfection, but it’s not realistic. It would be stupid to expect that to happen in professional cricket.
“But what we watched in that first Test, I would describe it as perfection with realism.
“It would be realistic to say, ‘Let’s win the toss, score massive runs, let the pitch deteriorate, bowl them out for 200-300, bat again for some quick runs and then bowl them out for 200 on the last day’.
“No one would tell you that’s never going to happen. It’s realistic, but the perfect outcome at the same time.”
Whilst Fisher talks about Root’s route to greatness this year, he feels exactly the same about England as a team.
“You see it in many sports where teams are just so successful at a given time, and you can tell Rooty and Chris Silverwood have built something special in terms of the culture,” he said.
“It’s the way they speak in interviews, the way they respect and play the game. They have an identity which is so tough to build but so easy to connect with as a fan.
“They are playing their cricket in exactly the right way but so well with it.
“And what is happening doesn’t come out of luck, it comes out of hard work at training and things like that.
“Closer to home, it happened with the Yorkshire team in 2014 and 2015. Every day, they went out there with the belief they were going to come out on top and ultimately win.
“If they had half an hour’s bad cricket, it could be turned around through that strength of character.
“It just all comes together, and it seems like that England are in the early stages of that journey. I guess we’ll only know for sure by the end of the Ashes this time next year.”
The second Test starts on Saturday (4am UK), also in Chennai.
“I think it’s an advantage for England that the game’s at the same venue. They will be saying, ‘Just treat it as an extension of the same game’,” said Fisher. “And that’s so much easier at the same venue because the good memories are there.”
England’s team will be changed, with rest and rotation now the norm given the amount of cricket the players play, including limited overs internationals and in domestic competitions such as the IPL. There is even more pressure on players currently given the restrictions surrounding Coronavirus bubbles for international sides.
Jonny Bairstow was sent home to rest after the Sri Lanka series and will return to the fold after the second Test, while Jos Buttler will make way for Ben Foakes behind the stumps and will be rested for the remainder of the series.
There is also likely to be rotation within the seam attack.
“For me, resting and sending players home is a big reason why England are doing so well,” reasoned Fisher.
“The conversations must be so honest. It must be like, ‘Lad’s, we’re doing this because we believe it’s the best thing for you’.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff on social media with people wanting your best team out there for four Tests in India. I can see that view, but I also heard Silvers (Silverwood) say that they wanted to sort things before they became an issue.
“You’ve seen what’s happened before with players coming home from tours with mental health issues – Trott and Trescothick. And it’s all about trying your best to prevent that now.
“It’s very much a case of, ‘They’re playing this much cricket, so they need this much rest’.
“It doesn’t seem like the lads are kicking up any sort of fuss because they know it’s the right thing. Yes, they are living their dreams, but it’s still a very tough environment.
“It very much shows the strength of the dressing room they have.
“On the flipside, India have just had a tough and long tour of Australia. They were successful, but you don’t know how much it will have taken out of them.
“Going from two months in a hotel to quarantining back at home before another tough series must take its toll.
“They may still be able to cope with it all and bounce back because they are a brilliant team. But you could also see it going the other way if that fatigue comes in.
“I would be surprised if it went 3-0, 4-0 to England. But you can’t rule it out for that reason.”