Ashes 2021-22: Root looks to salvage positives ahead of fourth Test

By Sports Desk January 03, 2022

Joe Root insists there is still plenty to play for as far as England are concerned, despite having already lost the Ashes series to Australia after a dire first three Tests.

A chastening innings defeat in the third Test at the MCG gave the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead, with England now just playing for pride in the final two, starting with the fourth Test at the SCG in Sydney this week.

"You can dwell on what's happened so far, or we can look at the opportunities that present themselves in the immediate future," Root said. "That can be the making of some sides and the start of something, that's the approach we'll have to take."

The England captain – who received the backing of Ben Stokes on Monday – also insisted he will continue focusing on the job at hand as he dismissed topics surrounding his future.

"I need to make sure that my full focus is on these two games," he added. "First and foremost, I need to try to get the best out of the group, make sure we put in those performances we keep banging on about out there on the field.

"We'll worry about the captaincy at the end of the series. I've got two big games here to manage well."

Root will lead England as captain in a Test for the 60th time, overtaking the record of 59 set by his predecessor Alastair Cook.

England's preparation has been far from ideal, with four coaches – including Chris Silverwood – in isolation, with assistant coach Graham Thorpe set to lead in Silverwood's absence.

The fourth Test will be the Pink Test at the SCG, the traditional event to raise funds for the Jane McGrath Foundation, the charity co-founded by former Australia cricketer Glenn McGrath following his wife's breast cancer diagnosis in 2005.

The ex-bowler's attendance is in doubt, however, after he tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday.

England to decide whether to stick or twist

The tourists made some notable changes for the third Test that it would be fair to say did not have the desired effect, but whether they change things back is far from certain.

Rory Burns was dropped after scoring just 51 runs in four innings across the first two Tests at an average of 12.75, but fellow opener Haseeb Hameed has only managed 65 in six innings at an average of 10.83.

Zak Crawley replaced Burns, making just 17 runs in Melbourne, but for a player who has played so little cricket recently it might be considered more beneficial in the long-term to give him another outing.

Chris Woakes was also left out of the third Test after an expensive return of 149-1 with the ball in Adelaide, but the all-rounder could be brought back for his batting as his average of 26.25 is the third best England have in this series.

Stuart Broad could come back in having been a surprising omission for the first and third Tests, as referenced by Steve Smith in the lead up to the clash in Sydney.

Only two players in English history can better Broad's career record of 120 Test wickets against Australia.

 

Options not a problem for Aussies

While England are desperately looking for players to put together a competitive side, Australia are wrestling with the conundrum of whether to leave out a bowler who took 6-7 in the second innings of the last Test.

Scott Boland had a Test debut to remember in his home-ground of the MCG, taking England wickets in the second innings with astonishing regularity, but with Josh Hazlewood possibly being available again after injury, Boland could be the one to make way.

Travis Head will miss out after testing positive for COVID-19 and is likely to be replaced by Usman Khawaja. Head has somewhat surprisingly been the hosts' top batsman in the series so far, scoring 248 runs in four innings at an average of 62.00.

There have been some calls for spinner Mitchell Swepson to be given a game in preparation for Australia's tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka later this year, but the SCG has not always been a kind pitch for spin.

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