LAWRENCE BOOTH: It's make or break for Joe Root and England!

LAWRENCE BOOTH: It’s make or break for Joe Root and England! Victory in Adelaide will keep the Ashes series alive and put a temporary stop to the local ridicule… while defeat in the pink-ball Test does not bear thinking about

  • England have reassured themselves factors conspired against them in Brisbane 
  • The next week may tell us whether Joe Root’s men are deluding themselves 
  • Australia have played eight floodlit Tests since staging first and have won the lot 
  • Root will become England’s most-defeated leader if they lose in Adelaide

Joe Root sounded relaxed as his side prepared for Thursday’s crucial second Test in Adelaide, but behind a velvet exterior was a message of pure steel — this time, there are no excuses.

England have spent the days since their sobering nine-wicket defeat at the Gabba reassuring themselves that a combination of factors conspired against them —insufficient preparation, inhospitable conditions, incompetent catching, inadequate batting.

The next week may tell us whether they are deluding themselves, whether they are refusing to face a less palatable truth — namely that Australia, in these conditions, are simply better than they are. It is not an avenue Root can afford to explore.

Joe Root sounded relaxed as his side prepared for Thursday’s crucial second Test in Adelaide

England have reassured themselves factors conspired against them in Brisbane defeat

‘We’re in the series now,’ he insisted. ‘All the batters faced pretty much all of their bowlers. Our bowlers have got good work into them. We know it’s not going to get more difficult than that first day at Brisbane, so there’s no excuses going forward.’

On the face of it, a pink-ball Test — with the opportunities it offers swing bowlers when the floodlights are on — is just what England need to make it 1-1. Australia, on the other hand, may argue they are strong favourites to make it 2-0.

They have played eight floodlit Tests since staging the first against New Zealand six years ago and have won the lot — five of them at Adelaide and most by big margins, including their 120-run victory over England in 2017-18. No other Test team have played more than four pink-ball games.

The Australians look formidable even without injured fast bowler Josh Hazlewood (above)

Even without the injured Josh Hazlewood, the Australians look formidable, although it was fair of Root to point out that he is ‘a big part of their success in these conditions in particular’.

For England’s captain, this Test looms as make or break. Victory will keep the series alive and put a stop — however temporary — to local ridicule. Defeat does not bear thinking about. Only one team have come from 2-0 down to win the Ashes and that was Australia in 1936-37, helped by Don Bradman.

Much was made in the summer of Root’s 27th Test win as captain, passing his old mentor Michael Vaughan’s national record. But if Australia win here, Root will make another kind of history — surpassing Alastair Cook as England’s most-defeated leader with 23.

Perhaps understandably, he preferred to focus on the positives. ‘Any Ashes game is a big game,’ he said. ‘But it would be a great one to win, to lay a marker down for the rest of the series and show the character that’s in the dressing room.’

Root will overtake Alastair Cook (L) as England’s most-defeated leader if they lose in Adelaide

England’s two innings of 147 and 297 at Brisbane were a reminder of the endemic weakness of their batting, but Root also knows that without the ability to take 20 wickets, his side are done for. Since Andrew Strauss’s side won 3-1 in 2010-11, that is something England have managed in Australia only once in 11 Tests — at Sydney in 2013-14, when they lost anyway.

The key to the make-up of their attack here will be the fitness of Ben Stokes, who bowled a rousing spell in the Adelaide Oval nets two days out from the game, peppering his captain and at one point hitting him on the head.

If Stokes is considered fit to play a full part as a bowler after jarring his left knee at the Gabba, there is an outside chance that England will persevere with the left-arm spin of Jack Leach, despite his mauling in the first Test.

Australian No 5 Travis Head, fresh from butchering 152 off 148, claimed spin plays a ‘huge role’ at Adelaide, adding: ‘Whenever we played Nathan Lyon here for New South Wales, he’s always been near impossible to hit, with the bounce and turn he can get from this wicket.’

But if there is any doubt about Stokes’ ability to send down more than, say, five overs a day, any slow bowling will be performed by Root, and England will go in with four frontline seamers, plus Stokes as back-up.

That ought to mean a straight choice between Chris Woakes, whose best figures in 15 overseas Tests — four for 36 — came under the Adelaide lights four years ago, and Mark Wood, who deserved better than three for 85 at the Gabba. 

The other possibility — that Stuart Broad misses out again — seems too implausible to contemplate after his omission in Brisbane. But England have made some strange decisions of late.

Root is extremely wary of looking after Stokes, whose quiet first Test felt anti-climactic after the build-up.

If Ben Stokes (R) is considered fit to bowl, there is an outside chance of Jack Leach (L) playing

But if he is not, it could be a straight choice between Chris Woakes (R) and Mark Wood (L)

‘It was a huge ask and I’m probably as guilty as anyone,’ said Root. ‘I expected too much of him, because I see him as a bit of a super hero. In the last couple of years, once or twice a series, he’s done something extraordinary which has won you a game on its own. And you do get a little complacent about expecting that.

‘It’s easy to forget that on a big occasion like this, whether because he’s not played a huge amount but also what he’s had to go through recently, I think there was a little bit too much on him.’

Australia remain hopeful that opener David Warner will play after taking blows to the ribs from Wood and Stokes, and must choose between the pacy Jhye Richardson and the steadier Michael Neser as Hazlewood’s replacement.

Whoever they select, England will need all their resolve to stop the juggernaut.

‘As I said to the group, this series is a marathon not a sprint,’ said Root. ‘It’s important to understand that there will be opportunities to get ahead in this game. We’ve got to make sure we recognise them when they come round.’

Australia remain hopeful that opener David Warner will play after taking blows to the ribs

Hosts must choose between Jhye Richardson (above) and Michael Neser as Hazlewood’s replacement




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