Root holds firm, eyes Ashes redemption Down Under
England's captain scotches suggestions he will stand down, instead eyeing a new direction leading to the next Ashes campaign
Andrew Ramsey in London
12 September 2019, 11:09 AM AEST
Now that Australia's long-term planning has ensured they retain the urn and taken them to the cusp of a long-awaited Test series win in the UK, England skipper Joe Root has identified the next Ashes series Down Under as a key priority for his team.
On the eve of the final Test at The Oval, which could see the five-match series tied 2-2 if England prevail, Root has scotched suggestions he might consider vacating the captaincy by outlining his future vision.
While conceding that England's failure to win back the Ashes was "bitterly disappointing", he claimed he was committed to continuing as skipper and re-stamping his mark on the Test outfit, starting immediately.
Root pointed out that although the Ashes were Australia's, the series had not yet been lost and to view the final Test of a long and historic northern summer as a dead rubber would represent a sorely missed opportunity.
The 28-year-old has struggled against Australia's dominant seamers in the current series, and his 247 runs at 30.87 thus far means he is on the verge of enduring seven consecutive Test campaigns (including the one-off match against Ireland last July) in which he's averaged below 40.
Indeed, the last time Root enjoyed a consistently productive Test series was the previous Ashes campaign in Australia during the summer of 2017-18, which might partly explain why he's already targeting the next tour there as a clear goal.
"Of course I have not performed how I would have liked," he said on Wednesday.
"But that is part and parcel of Test cricket and you have to find ways of counteracting difficult passages of play and good bowling, and I continue to keep working hard at that and working hard at my game.
"In terms of my own captaincy, I know the direction I want to take this team moving forward and it is about starting that now and not after this series.
"It is important we win this game and have a really strong winter (in New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka) and move forward as a group.
"In terms of personnel, things might change as they have done for a while but we have to focus on the core group of players that can lead this team forward, both home and away, then build from that.
"Build towards winning in Australia (in 2021-22) and use the next two years to focus on putting in a winning tour Down Under.
"That's a real incentive for everyone, to be part of something special down there."
Root has also pointed out that, in addition to the chance to level the Ashes series, the final match of the summer also carries a possible 24 points towards the newly instituted ICC Test Championship.
That title will be decided between the top-ranking teams on the points table in mid-2021, shortly before England depart on their quest to become the first team to secure the Ashes in Australia since 2010-11.
The fact that Root has become the first England captain since Nasser Hussain in 2001 not to win or retain the Ashes on home soil has increased the scrutiny on the Test leadership he's held since Alastair Cook stepped down in 2017.
But he doesn't believe the burden of captaincy, coupled with his decision to elevate himself to number three in the batting order, has impacted upon his batting form.
Despite being the first England captain to record three ducks in a single Ashes series, and bagging the only two golden ducks of his 85-Test career to date, Root will stay at the pivotal first-drop position for at least the next match.
Asked whether that will remain his preferred role beyond then, he smiled and said: "We'll see."
But he acknowledges that in addition to some wretched luck, including the loss of strike bowler James Anderson for all-but four overs of this Ashes contest, England find themselves trailing 1-2 because Australia have been better able to seize their opportunities when they have arisen.
And that is partly a product of the detailed planning the tourists began putting in place years ago in order to succeed in English conditions, a strategy that Root is clearly looking to emulate in Australia.
"We have had some challenges throughout the summer with injuries, the weather has intervened in certain parts of games which has hindered slightly and the series could have looked slightly different," Root said.
"But they are all ifs and buts, and we are a side that don't like to use excuses.
"You have to give credit to Australia, they've taken their chances when they've come and they've had guys that have really stepped up in these conditions.
"We have to learn, and we have to learn fast."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval