“I want you to challenge me. Can I have the same online session as you did with Anthony McGrath? Kevin Sharp, Yorkshire’s striker, was surprised to hear those words from 12-year-old Joe Root. It had been an intense session where he peppered the professional McGrath with bounces and he could not turn his head around the child’s request.
It was the first time Sharp, who had played a decade with Geoffrey Boycott in his 218-game career before moving to coaching, had met Root, who had come with his father to Headingley Stadium. The kid had received a scholarship with the Yorkshire Cricket Club’s youth team and as team coach for the senior team, Sharp liked to invite the new children to Headingly to have an ingenious welcome chat. “It turns out he was on the balcony watching the entire session with McGrath,” Sharp reminds the newspaper. He had just finished with McGrath and met the roots, father and child, in his office.
“During our conversation, I remember thinking that he seemed very mature for his age. He could have been in his 20s for all I knew; such was the kind of clarity. He knew what he wanted from the club, where he wanted to end up. And I thought, ‘Kid, if you can hit as well as you can talk, you’ll become something! And then I asked him if he wanted to do something now, and that was when he hit me with that McGrath network request. ”
The exchange between the two is so fresh in Sharp’s memory that it is best played out in the way he tells it.
This little baby looks me straight in the eye and smiles. I’m thinking about what’s going on. ‘What do you mean by that? I can not do that because I will hurt you. I will be fired if I injure a 12-year-old boy in the head. ‘”
Joe laughs again. ‘No, I’ll be fine.
“You think so?” ‘Yes I do’. ‘Okay, wear all your protective gear because I’ll come for you.’ “He rocks in, you know with big pillows and rest.” Okay, here’s the thing: 8-yard pitch. Three halves, one gap. I walk up to him and start staring. I have a gloomy face when I say, ‘I will not be your friend for the next 15 minutes.’ He nods, smiling. ”
“And so I went. I throw it fast. He left some, defended some and a thought pops into my head, ‘bounce him. Bounce him ‘. Another voice says, ‘Are you confused? No, no, he’s just a child ‘. But the more confident he strikes, the other voice wins and I let one rip.
“It was a beauty. It cut his grill on his helmet and I stared at him. And he smiles and says, “that was a good ball, wasn’t it ?!” I knew we were getting something special. After he left, I went to the office and said to cricket manager Ian Dews: ‘I only saw one young guy. He will strike for Yorkshire. ‘”
Sharp knew what he was talking about. A teammate to boycott, he had rubbed his shoulders with class and felt one when he saw one. “Well, I drove Boyc’s BMW for a few years with him! He was always a wise cricketer, someone so dedicated to the game. Over time, I saw a similar run in Joe. ”
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Growing up problems
“Bambi! That’s what everyone in the club called him. “Root would encounter his first major problem when he was around 17. During the winter, he had suddenly shot up in the air and this led to unforeseen balance problems at folds. A real Bambi, the Disney character: a little deer that had a lame leg. Sharp laughs at the memory now. Root did not laugh then. He had started to fall over on his forefoot and the LBWs started to pile up. “At least 20 times. He staggered away like little Bambi! ”
The two started working. “We adjusted his posture, how he held his bat, his direction – we were tangled for almost two years, I think, as he continued to soar. It was a difficult time for him but he stuck to it. “Eventually, life turned a corner. “Adversity is good during the formative years, I think. It makes them more determined, gives them the skill to cope with low phases as adults. ”
The lowest phase would come in Ashes 2013-14 when Alastair Cook, the captain, called Root over to give the bad news. That he was dropped for the next test. Root has talked about how he uses Cook’s words as motivation to push himself. Then, when he reached England at the end of the tour, he called Sharp. “More than any real technical work, I remember reminding him of the good days. What he was good at. What brought him to this space. The reminder of how little Bambi had overcome his limp would work.
Like old times
Root always loved a challenge and was always proactive, says Sharp, and he suggests a story from a day in Barbados when Root was about 18.
“I will never forget that day. He came to me with all his equipment on and said, ‘Coach, do you have 20 minutes?’ I nod and he goes, ‘Just like the good old days.’ And now he rolls out what I said to him years back on the first day. “8-yard pitch, three halves, a gap and you run in and bounce me on my head!”
The two go into an “aggressively intense” session. “I beat him four times. I hit him in the head, I hit him on his helmet grill, I hit him in the neck and I also hit him on his chest. A few times on his gloves too. He keeps smiling and when we’m done I say ‘Hit yourself a few times, right?’ And Joe says “Yeah, you did, but you did not take me out, did you ?!”
Promises are meant to be kept
When Root was 14, Sharp remembers a moment that would be played a few times in the years to come. “I playfully say to him: ‘You will not forget me, when you play for England? “‘No, I do not.'” Two tickets to Lord’s Test, full hospitality please! “He smiles and says ‘Done!’ “
Root will make his test debut in India in December 2012 and will play his first test in England at Lord’s in May 2013. A text comes from Root. “Are you coming to the Lord? Need to fulfill our agreement. But Sharp, who had taken on a role as head coach of Worcestshire, could not. “I had to reject him for the next four years.” 2017 began with the news of the birth of Root’s child Alfie. “I sent him a congratulatory message and he texted back: ‘Thank you. Are you coming to Lord’s this year? ‘
“I thought it was time. I checked my diary. And I send back the text: ‘It’s England against South Africa. Two tickets. Full hospitality, please! ‘And he sends me “thumbs up and done!” “
As it turned out, Cook resigned from the captain shortly after, and that test would also be Roots’ first as England captain. “I guess some things are just meant to be. I spent the whole day with his parents at Lord’s. He hit a fantastic 180 and I remember drinking a lot! That night my wife and I stayed back in London which meant more drinks. The next morning I went back with a big headache – the happiest and most satisfying headache in my life! Sharp is happy to remember.