Root 'excited' to lead England at last

Joe Root (Getty)
Joe Root (Getty)

London - Joe Root says he feels excited by the prospect of finally leading England in a Test on the eve of the South Africa series opener at Lord's.

Months of waiting will come to an end on Thursday for the 26-year-old Yorkshire batsman, who was named as Alastair Cook's successor as Test captain back in February.

England, however, have been concentrating on limited overs action since then but Thursday's match, the first of a four-Test series, will mark their return to red-ball cricket.

"I'm very excited," Root told reporters at Lord's on Wednesday.

"For it to finally come round has made it feel a little bit more real. I just want to get out there."

Root confirmed that Hampshire spinner Liam Dawson would play on Thursday.

Meanwhile recalled batsman Gary Ballance will come in at number three, the new skipper at four and their Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow at five.

"I have had a long time to think about a few things since becoming captain and that is the decision I have made," said Root. "I think it is where I play my best cricket."

Dawson's inclusion means that, for the second year in a row, uncapped paceman Toby Roland-Jones has missed out on the chance of making a Test debut at his Middlesex home ground.

This match will be left-armer Dawson's first Test on home soil after he made a debut in an innings and 75-run defeat by India at Chennai in December.

The 27-year-old Dawson made an unbeaten 66 in that match and also took two for 129 in 43 overs, conceding on average just three runs an over.

"When he came into the side he bowled with great control," said Root of Dawson.

"He looked very at home and he will complement the rest of the attack as well."

Ballance, dropped twice by England, has forced his way back in after piling on the runs for Yorkshire -- he is averaging over 101 in the First Division of the County Championship this season -- even though his last six Test innings have yielded just 49 runs in total.

"In terms of Gary I look at how he has performed this year and the amount of runs he has scored and he has been phenomenal," said Root of the Zimbabwe-born 27-year-old left-hander.

"A lot of people asked questions about the last time he played for England but I look at his game now, as do the other selectors, and he is a completely different player."

England lost eight Tests last year although they did start 2016 by completing a 2-1 series win in South Africa.

"We had a tough year last year in Test cricket but I think a lot of the squad is very settled and has learnt a lot from that and is ready to put that right this year," Root said.

Root averages over 52 in Test cricket, having scored 11 hundreds in 53 matches at this level.

Concerns have been expressed that the responsibility of captaincy might hinder Root's run-scoring.

But, having seen fellow leading batsmen Steve Smith (Australia) and Virat Kohli (India) continue to score heavily as Test skippers, the new England captain said: "I can't see how I'll approach batting differently.

"I've generally prepared as I'd normally prepare for any other Test.

"When I get out in the middle, I'll look -- as I have previously -- to play the situation that's in front of me."

South Africa have lost just one away Test series in the last 10 years and Root said: "They're a side that generally always play well in foreign conditions.

"Their seamers have proved to be very strong in the past. A lot of the guys have experience of facing them over in South Africa, which should help going into this series.

"But it's about making sure we look after our game now."

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England 130/3 (56.5 ov)
West Indies 0
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