“I have not been at my absolute best but I have not been really struggling. It’s just been frustrating that I have not had those really big scores that really contribute to winning games. That is the driver for me moving forward”
England captain Joe Root says he has been underperforming in Test cricket – and is determined to start making match-winning scores as he closes in on his 100th game in the format.
Root will play his 98th Test when England take on Sri Lanka in Galle from Thursday, having amassed 7,823 runs, including 17 hundreds, at an average of 47.99 across his previous 97 matches.
However, the England captain averaged under 40 in 2019 and did not manage to convert one of his four fifties across eight Tests in 2020 into a century – leaving him hungry to improve those stats during a 17-Test year.
England’s two-match series in Sri Lanka is followed by a four-game assignment against India from early February, while a bumper 12 months also includes a home series against India and an Ashes tour to Australia, with Root wanting to play a fundamental role in victories for his side.
“I am very aware that in the last year or so of my career I have underperformed to my own standards,” Root told Sky Sports’ Michael Atherton ahead the series opener against Sri Lanka.
“That happens from time to time and trying to stay as level as possible is something I think I have got better at – understanding that you can’t always have everything your own way.
“I have not been at my absolute best but I have not been really struggling. It’s just been frustrating that I have not had those really big scores that really contribute to winning games.
“I have pitched in here and there with the odd fifty-plus score but it doesn’t have the same feeling as a batter – you want to be making the big contributions, helping the side get across the line.
“That is the driver for me moving forward – to make more hundreds, to make those big, winning scores.
“There is no better feeling than doing well and winning games. Setting it up for your guys to go out there and take 20 wickets or you being there at the end having knocked off a score.
“Hopefully there will be a few occasions like that in the next 17 Test matches.”
The 30-year-old – who scored an unbeaten 74 in England’s internal warm-up match in Hambantota last week – hopes tweaks to his batting technique will pay dividends.
He said: “I have done some good work recently trying to get more rhythm back into my batting.
“For a large period of my career I had a movement that looked quite fluent and natural but it had to work extremely hard. I got to a point where it was no longer consistent and I found myself getting into really difficult positions.
“I felt quite vulnerable and sides found a way to exploit it and I needed to find a different way of being more secure at the crease, more technically sound and harder to get out.
“I have now found a good balance so hopefully I can put that into practice in the next six Tests, make some really big scores and put myself in a really good place going into the rest of the year.
“You can do all the right things away from the games but it’s about what you do out in the middle.
“I feel like my game’s good against spin. There should be a large volume of that this winter so hopefully that can play into my hands.”
Root scored 124 during the second Test of England’s 3-0 sweep in Sri Lanka in late 2018, a series in which precisely 100 wickets fell to spin bowling.
However, the batsman says it would be “dangerous and lazy” to expect the conditions to be exactly the same a little over two years on.
Root also wants to avoid the “sloppiness” that has seen England frequently lose the first Test of a series, something which occurred in New Zealand and South Africa last winter.
On Sri Lanka, Root added: “We are very aware that the conditions might be very different to the last time we played here.
“We are not going to have too many preconceived ideas about what we are going to come up against. It’s quite dangerous and lazy to walk into a series like that.
“In a two-match series like this you have to be on the ball and you have to start well. We have been hit on previous tours by being sloppy in that first session and the series is over so we have to make sure we are switched on and reading what is right in front of us.
“We have to continue looking to do what we have done over the last year – get those big first-innings runs, 400-plus, and then be smart with how we are going to look to take 20 wickets. Control the rate and put pressure on for long periods with the ball.”