Root eyes April comeback
Joe Root still has his eye on a comeback this month, after five X-rays and counting on his badly-broken right thumb.
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The 23-year-old ended an exacting 2013/14 by making his maiden one-day international century in Antigua - only to discover his thumb had been "shattered into eight pieces".
He was hit by a short ball from Ravi Rampaul when he had made just a single but went on to make 107 as England beat West Indies for the only series victory of their seismically unsuccessful winter.
Root was told on arrival home to anticipate a six-week recovery after being ruled out of both the Twenty20s against the Windies and then the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.
He has heard nothing yet in a string of subsequent consultations to make him think otherwise.
"I hope by the end of the month I'll be back playing some cricket," said the Yorkshire batsman, still wearing protective cover on his thumb and just before his latest appointment with that X-ray machine.
"That's the timeframe they gave me at the start - about six weeks, which works out towards the end of April.
"All being well, that game at Middlesex [on April 27] is one I'll be looking to try to play in."
Root, who on Monday signed a two-year contract extension at Yorkshire that will keep him at his native county until at least December 2016, has spent many hours over the past month en route to and from those hospital check-ups.
"To start with it was once a week, then every two weeks," he said.
"I've had about five X-rays, so it's quite nice to see the progression.
"I hope I get some better news today, and (then) it will almost be looking in one piece."
That will be stealthy progress indeed, since Root learned the worst about his injury.
"It was a weird one. When it happened I actually thought I'd done ligaments or muscle in the bottom of my thumb - that's [where] it really hurt," he said.
"The adrenaline, and some nice pain-killers from the doctor, got me through (the innings).
"Then I went for an X-ray, and the one over there said I had one small crack and one near the joint.
"But I got back here, saw a specialist and had it done again - and there were about eight pieces."
He has yet to pick up a bat in anger, of course, but added: "I've got some movement at the joint now, which I didn't have before.
"The swelling is starting to go down a little bit.
"It's still very misshapen. I don't think I'm going to get my normal shape back in it.
"But that's part of being a cricketer. You've got to take these knocks on the chin and come back.
"It shattered into eight pieces. But I was quite lucky it was only in the end point of my bone."
Root's misfortune brought an early end for him to a winter which could scarcely have gone worse for England.
They began it with high hopes of a historic fourth consecutive Ashes victory, and second in six months.
By the end, after their 5-0 whitewash by Australia, they had lost record runscorer Kevin Pietersen - axed by the England and Wales Cricket Board - and team director Andy Flower, who resigned.
England reached a new low when they lost to minnows Holland in their final fixture, a dead rubber between World Twenty20 also-rans.
Root, a long-distance spectator by then, does not try to put a gloss on events.
"It was tough," he said.
"As a team, I think it caught everyone off guard a little bit really.
"I didn't perform as well as I would have liked in Australia. That is quite obvious."
Even so, as England prepare to name a new coach this month, Root senses his steep learning curve can only be of long-term benefit.
"The pleasing thing is that, within a year's (international) cricket, I've batted at the top of the order, batted at six, won the Ashes, lost them, won in India ... pretty much done everything," he said.
"To have all of those experiences in such a short space of time can only stand me in good stead. I hope I can learn from this winter, take as much of the good stuff out of it as possible.
"There are a couple of young players now coming through, who've got a great opportunity to try to become more senior within the squad.
"It will be interesting to see if people can stand up and do that.
"It's a fresh start now for the summer, and we've got to make sure we really make a statement as a team."
Yorkshire need to do likewise - after flattering to deceive 12 months ago, when the championship title seemed theirs until Durham's late surge.
"It's been too long for a big club like Yorkshire to not get any silverware, so there's a lot of hungry lads in this dressing-room," said Root.
"The championship would be the icing on the cake."