Joe Root pauses for a second and smiles when he is reminded of the days when he was a youngster at Sheffield Collegiate, standing a few feet tall and struggling to hit the ball off the square.
Even then, coaches at the Abbeydale Park club knew this kid would be special and the nickname FEC – Future England Captain – stuck from an early age.
But even those closest to this child prodigy surely couldn’t comprehend how special he would become.
They are closer to finding out now, mainly thanks to a jam-packed calendar year containing one historic World Cup hundred; 460 runs and a Man of the Series award in a remarkable summer Ashes win; twice reaching the very summit of the world rankings and hitting more runs in all formats than any other English cricketer to have ever walked this planet in a 12-month period. And all with one game, the Boxing Day Test against South Africa in Durban, to come.
So what’s the secret to facing bowlers like Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn, dealing with – and thriving in – the pressure cooker of international cricket?
For 24-year-old Root, it’s child’s play.
“I still can’t comprehend it sometimes,” Root, the England Test vice-captain, tells me. “Going back to the days I played for Collegiate as a kid, I’ve not changed my approach. That’s the most pleasing thing about things these days, for me. I still love cricket as much as I did back then, as a youngster and early teenager.
“Don’t get me wrong, at times it becomes highly pressurised and very intense. But instead of letting it get on top of me, I remember why I play the game; because I love it. I have a good network of friends and family who remind me that it’s not always the be all and end all, as much as it feels like it sometimes out on the pitch.
“But it really helps to put things in perspective, when it’s not going your way. And I’m really thankful for that.”
Root, speaking to The Star at the launch of his new book, Bringing Home the Ashes, will end the year as he began it – in a hotel room, thousands of miles away from home. He turns 25 on December 30 – the last day of the Boxing Day Test in Durban – to cap a hectic 12-month period in which he has been on England duty in Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and the United Arab Emirates.
The nine days he spent in England recently will be his last on home soil until next February.
“It’s not long at home,” Root concedes. “But we have a great opportunity to do the job we love in some great places. It does get hard, of course. We’d never want to moan about it – we’re lucky to play around the world. But you do miss your family, your friends – even a good cup of tea and the chance to curl up in front of the fire and watch Soccer Saturday on television.
“It gets harder as you get older, too. The older guys have families and young children and I can’t imagine having to leave young children at home for months at a time. They might have doubled in size by the time we get home.
“We’re all in it together and try to look after each other pretty well. We have to. We almost become like a family of our own.
“In that respect, being an international cricketer enables you to make friends for life so I’m really grateful for that. I try to never lose sight of how fortunate I am to do the job I love. As it is, we have two weeks to get ready for that first Test in Durban and hopefully we can produce something really special out there.”
Special performances have become his speciali ty of late – but Root is quick to share the praise.
“It’s been a surreal 12 months, to be honest,” he said. “Coming out of the World Cup (where England bowed out at the group stage, winning just two games) it looked like being a tough year. So, credit to the squad for turning it around.
“Going through the lows makes the highs all the more sweet and everyone contributed to us winning the Ashes. Hopefully, we won’t have to go through too many lows from now on.”