Root must learn lessons from Ashes and make bold calls with work under pressure
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oe Root is on his third Ashes tour, and it’s the first time the urn will be up for grabs when he eats his Christmas turkey.
As things are going, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is only the case because of the shape of the calendar, with three, not two, Tests after Christmas, rather than any improvement in performance. England performance.
At the start of another series that suddenly feels very long, England looks as stuffed as Root’s turkey. And while their preparation was hampered by Covid and the rain, what will hurt the most is that so many of their issues have been homemade.
Root and Chris Silverwood, the submissive man with the soft voice who takes on the epic double duty of head coach and selection supremo, are under pressure for their jobs during one of the game’s big occasions, a test of the ashes on Boxing Day, here at the colossal MCG.
Root has been a maligned captain, and there are obvious shortcomings. He is respected by his team, is a good ambassador for the sport and has never shied away from his responsibilities, whether with the stick or in decision-making. His position as captain should, based on the story, come to an end naturally.
A second success in an away Ashes series has not been granted to a captain in a century, and in Melbourne (where he will be 31 on day five) he will be on par with his predecessor, Sir Alastair Cook, out of 59 tests, the most for an English skipper. Four to five years has been the shelf life in the modern age.
The problem is the viable alternatives. Ben Stokes is a possibility, but would he take it away from his buddy Root? That’s before considering he’s a versatile player, playing all three formats as well as the IPL, who has had injury issues and mental health issues severe enough to keep him from playing this year. It would be a risk, but not as much as Rory Burns or Jos Buttler, whose careers could end on this tour.
The bad news for Silverwood is that while the captains are drawn from the pool of available players, the net can be wider for the coaches. There are plenty of them, from all countries, with all kinds of styles.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, it looks like Silverwood’s tenure is too broad for any individual, let alone his limitations. If England pull off the unthinkable and leave with the Ashes, it will be despite a situation where they have a head coach responsible for the selection in all three formats, and not because of it. Whether or not Silverwood remains involved, a red-white-ball split seems reasonable, with separate figureheads working together on selection but separately on training.
Too often, Root and Silverwood have picked the wrong team. They picked four seamers out of a sandbox in Ahmedabad and have so far chased their tails around Australia. They threw Jack Leach to Wolves in Brisbane, which they felt was enough to rule him out in Adelaide, where Ollie Robinson bowled and Root and Dawid Malan shared five wickets. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were selected for Adelaide and Mark Wood for Melbourne. The Ashes do not wait.
If they make it a selection hat-trick in Melbourne, where the pitch is likely to be flat, the Ashes will be gone. Forget Sydney and Hobart – Will Covid even allow the series to go this far? – and choose your best team.
It’s time for some big batting calls. Start at the top. Zak Crawley is expected to replace Haseeb Hameed, as Rory Burns at least seems to be going in the right direction. Some of the coaching staff regretted that they let Crawley down, despite his terrible year, in a matter of days, when a technical crunch immediately appeared in the net. England have said for two years that they have the game for Australia; use it.
Ollie Pope looks exhausted, especially against Nathan Lyon, and – 22 tests in his career – needs to be challenged further. Try Dan Lawrence or Jonny Bairstow, perhaps as a wicket keeper at No.7, with Buttler pushed all the way to No.6 as a specialist hitter. Bairstow averages 37 as a wicket keeper, 27 when not. Buttler averages 31 as a wicket keeper, 36 when he’s not. And he dropped three clicks in Adelaide.
What about the bowlers? Forget the tail and omit Chris Woakes. Wood returns, as does Leach – who must be ready for Sydney – for Broad or Anderson. These two are an iconic duo, but in their last 15 tandem away tests, dating back to January 2016, England have only two wins. When Woakes plays with them, it’s even worse. Anderson, Broad and Woakes played seven away Tests together: six losses, one draw.
Root talks about repeating mistakes. This includes selection, and its lesson must be learned now.
My team for Melbourne:R Burns, Z Crawley, D Malan, J Root (c), B Stokes, J Buttler, J Bairstow, O Robinson, M Wood, J Leach, J Anderson
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