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— 9 November 2017

With England having won five Tests in the summer of 2017 all under the captaincy of Yorkshire’s Joe Root, Paul Dyson looks at how common this is and finds that the new captain is in exclusive company.

For several seasons England have been playing seven Tests each year and in 2017 emerged victorious in five of them. As may be supposed, this is not particularly common and Joe Root is only the sixth England captain to lead his country to such a successful summer as the following shows.

1967 DB Close India (3), Pakistan (3) 5 0 1
1978 JM Brearley Pakistan (3), New Zealand (3) 5 0 1
2004 MP Vaughan New Zealand (2), West Indies (4) 6 0 0
2010 AJ Strauss Bangladesh (2), Pakistan (4) 5 1 0
2011 AJ Strauss Sri Lanka (3), India (4) 5 0 2
2013 AN Cook New Zealand (2), Australia (5) 5 0 2
2017 JE Root South Africa (4), West Indies (3) 5 2 0

NOTES: In 1959 England beat India 5-0 but under two different captains (PBH May 3, MC Cowdrey 2).
In 2004 England played seven Tests, ME Trescothick captaining the team to victory over New Zealand.
Root is the third Yorkshire captain on the list, following Brian Close and Michael Vaughan; Mike Brearley’s father played for Yorkshire.

To go back to the season when this feat was first achieved, Brian Close was leading England in only the third year during which there had been six Tests in a summer. The first was in 1912 and the second in 1965, this being the start of a sequence of ‘twin-tours’ which is now a regular feature of the English season. Having played in a mere 12 Tests spread over 17 seasons from his debut in 1949, Close, despite not being a current Test player, was appointed captain for the fifth and final Test of the 1966 season. The West Indies were the tourists and went to The Oval with a 3-0 lead having defeated England under Mike Smith (1 Test) and Colin Cowdrey. With a much-changed side (five players were dropped), Close’s team turned things around so dramatically that the visitors were trounced by an innings.

In the first half of 1967’s Test summer India lost all three matches by convincing margins. They fought back well at Headingley but lost by an innings at Lord’s and were bowled out for 92 at Edgbaston. Pakistan drew at Lord’s but were heavily beaten at Trent Bridge and The Oval.

It was assumed that, with these successes behind him, albeit against countries which were not particularly strong at the time, Close would be asked to lead the following winter’s tour to the West Indies. Unfortunately, between the final two Tests Yorkshire indulged in time-wasting tactics against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Close was severely censured, he refused to apologise and so the captaincy returned to Cowdrey.

Many assumed that that would not only be the end of Close as England captain but also as a player. Nine years later, however, he was recalled once again to face the might of the West Indies and his three Tests in the 1976 series, at the age of 45, were definitely his last. Exactly half of his 22 Tests – now spread over 27 seasons – had been against the opponents from the Caribbean.

Back to the present. Joe Root is the only captain in the above list to achieve five wins in a summer when leading England in his debut series. Can he equal the record of Andrew Strauss by repeating the feat in 2018 – after having retained the Ashes first?