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.

Reggae Boyz midfielder Ravel Morrison has hit back at comments made by Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick about Premier League teams participating in the Carabao Cup.

The current Derby County and former Manchester United player was reacting to Rangnick’s comments calling for Premier League clubs to step back from involvement in the competition.

Rangnick made the comments in a pre-match press conference looking ahead to his team’s Premier League Clash with Newcastle United on December 27, 2021 at St James’ Park.

“England is the only country again in the top five leagues in Europe that plays two cup competitions. In France, they abolished the second one two or three years ago. This is something that we could speak about and discuss,” Rangnick said.

His comments came after a number of Premier League managers expressed concerns about fixtures piling up and the turnaround between matches becoming shorter and shorter.

Manchester United exited the Carabao Cup in the third round after a 1-0 loss to West Ham, team of Reggae Boy Michail Antonio.

Morrison disagrees, citing the competition as an opportunity for youngsters to gain experience and exposure that they wouldn’t normally get in the Premier League to make a name for themselves.

“It’s a good cup for the younger generation to get their chance and shine,” Morrison wrote on Twitter.

Morrison has so far played six matches for the Reggae Boyz.

Morrison's Derby County are currently at the bottom of the table in the EFL Championship with 10 points from their 25 matches.

 

England captain Joe Root urged his team to respond in "disjointed and challenging circumstances" ahead of the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney.

The tourists have already succumbed to yet another series loss Down Under before a ball has even been bowled in the penultimate Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, having been outclassed in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

England's task has further mounted heading into the next Test, which starts on Tuesday, with head coach Chris Silverwood leading a list of absentees from the backroom staff due to COVID-19 issues.

Alongside the coaching shortage, some local net bowlers for the England side have also been withdrawn due to coronavirus complications, but Root insisted the seeming crisis is an opportunity for his team to unite.

"It has made things disjointed and challenging but it is a chance to come together," Root told BBC Sport.

"We're trying to manage it as best we can. In terms of practice, it's obviously going to look very different.

"We've all just got to be good human beings, good professionals, help each other out where we can and try and get the best possible prep going into these last two games.

"Whether it be putting pride back into the badge, whether it be making sure that we get Test Championship points, [and] for individuals making sure that they're pushing hard to cement their spots in the team. There's a huge amount to play for this group of players.

"We've got to stay tight, we've got to stay together. And we've got to put in a performance on one of the great Test venues in world cricket."

 

Root enjoyed an outstanding 2021 on the personal front, finishing with 1,708 runs at an average of 61 – the third-best haul in a calendar year, only behind Vivian Richards (1,710 in 1976) and Mohammad Yousuf (1,788 in 2006). 

Indeed, Root scored 26 per cent of all of England's runs last year – the highest proportion of any player for their respective teams in 2021 – but questions have been raised over the 31-year-old's captaincy credentials.

Nevertheless, Root – who received the backing of Ben Stokes earlier on Monday – ensures he will continue focusing on the job ahead 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."

Australia vice-captain Steve Smith has claimed to be "surprised" at the lack of action afforded to England fast bowler Stuart Broad during the visitors' dire Ashes campaign.

Broad was dropped for the emphatic defeat in Melbourne on Boxing Day that saw Australia retain the urn after just three matches of a one-sided series.

Only two players in English history can better Broad's career record of 120 Test wickets against Australia, and the 35-year-old vented his frustration at his recent lack of influence last weekend, also casting doubt over his Test cricket future.

England's selections have faced fierce scrutiny after Australia racked up an unassailable 3-0 lead, with all-rounder Ben Stokes publicly denying he has any desire to succeed the under-pressure Joe Root as captain.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the fourth Test in Sydney, Smith said of Broad's absence: "We have been surprised. There have probably been two wickets that would have suited him well [in the first and third Tests, in Brisbane and Melbourne].

"He bowled well in Adelaide, and he's always been a good contest for me. He's got me out a few times, I've scored runs off him. I think it's been a decent battle.

"He and Jimmy [Anderson] are two world-class performers, they have been for a long time. Maybe we'll see them out here together this week, I'm not sure."

Smith, who has averaged 31.75 across the series, has turned his attention to putting in a strong individual performance in the penultimate test, as the hosts target a whitewash victory.

"It's been a little while since I've scored a hundred, but I got close in Adelaide," Smith said.

Smith's 93 runs in Adelaide's second Test was his highest score of the series to date, and the 32-year-old is looking to roll back the clock after averaging over 100 in each of the past two Ashes series, earning a reputation as England's tormentor. 

"We've played on some pretty bowler-friendly wickets in the first three Tests, and it's been tough to get into a rhythm," he noted.

"But hopefully this week I can spend a lot of time out there, get a big one and help us continue to have success."

All-rounder Ben Stokes has no desire to take over as England captain as pressure mounts on Joe Root in light of the side's 3-0 Ashes deficit.

Root replaced Alastair Cook as England's full-time Test captain in early 2017 but has come under scrutiny with the side losing the Ashes in lopsided fashion.

The 31-year-old batsman was also in charge when England lost 4-0 to Ashes in 2017-18 and failed to win back the urn on home soil in 2019 with a 2-2 series draw.

Stokes looms as Root's obvious replacement as the side's vice-captain and arguably the only lock in England's best XI but he dismissed the role was on his radar.

"I've never really had an ambition to be a captain," Stokes said. "Captaincy is more than about setting fields, picking the team, making decisions out there in the middle.

"A captain is someone you want to go out and play for. Joe Root is someone I always want to play for.

"It's totally Joe's decision. He shouldn't be forced into doing it. I'm sure Cooky felt the same way. He did it for so long and when he knew his time was up, his time was up. Those discussions haven't entered anywhere near Joe yet.

"I don't sense that at all with Joe. He's brought this team a long way. He's done some great things. Obviously this series hasn't gone too well, not from a captaincy point of view, but from a team and results point of view."

Stokes, who has only managed 101 runs at 16.83 and four wickets at 62.25 this series, threw his support behind under-fire coach Chris Silverwood.

"Unfortunately, the captain and coach bear the scrutiny for [results], but there are 10 other guys out there in the field," he said.

"That's [the media's] job, to say, 'Should people step down?' At the end of the day, the most important people's opinions are those guys in the dressing room and they've got our thorough support.

"Chris Silverwood, exactly the same. He's a real players' coach. He stands up for you as individuals and players as well.

"All the hype in the media recently about their futures, it's your job to write that, but they know full well they have the support of everyone in there and that's all that matters."

The fourth Ashes Test starts in Sydney on Wednesday.

West Indies head coach Phil Simmons is expecting more energy and enthusiasm from a new-look squad as the team bowls off the year with series against Ireland and England.

The Caribbean team has endured a disappointing few months on the back of a disastrous showing at the T20 World Cup, followed by defeats in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

 A few of the team’s most experienced players have retired following a lackluster showing at the World Cup and the team did not select a few other regulars for the tour of Pakistan.  Despite a 3-0 T20 series loss in Pakistan, Simmons was encouraged by the team’s fervor.

“The way we started in Pakistan is the way we want to play now, have a lot more energy, more enthusiasm,” Simmons told members of the media earlier this week.

“It's a young group of guys and we are trying to mould them and get them into a winning frame of mind.  We want to win, and we want to do everything that it takes to win,” he added.

The team will see the likes of Brandon King and Odean Smith returning a potential debut for Justin Greaves and spinner Gudakesh Motie set to earn a second cap.

 

Six England players currently taking part in Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) have been asked to return home by the England Cricket Board (ECB).

The decision has been taken with the team’s upcoming tour of the West Indies in mind, and with consideration to rising coronavirus cases.  With the series scheduled to get underway in Barbados on January 22, all the players are expected to be back in England on January 7.

In a statement, released on Sunday, the ECB confirmed that the players were expected to be released by their clubs.  The list includes George Garton, Reece Topley, Sam Billings, James Vince, and Tymal Mills.  Chris Jordan had already left the country.

"The six English players currently playing in the KFC BBL who have been selected for England’s T20 International series against the West Indies will be returning to the UK by January 7,” the release read.

Stuart Broad says his biggest frustration over England's Ashes failure is the feeling that he has "not really done anything" in Australia.

Australia retained the urn less than halfway through the series when they hammered England by an innings and 14 runs in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Broad was dropped in Melbourne, having taken two wickets in an emphatic 275-run thrashing at the Adelaide Oval after he and James Anderson were surprisingly omitted for the nine-wicket defeat in the first match of the series at the Gabba.

The 35-year-old has expressed his frustration over being omitted twice as the wounded tourists prepare for the fourth Test at the SCG, which starts on Wednesday.

"As a wobble-seam bowler, I feel as though I missed out on two of the best wobble-seam pitches in Australia," Broad wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

"Only playing once has made this a very disappointing trip, one that has not met my personal expectations.

"The biggest frustration is losing the Ashes, being 3-0 down and feeling like I've not really done anything. Not being able, as an experienced player, to influence a series while it's live is tough.

"But that is top-flight sport, and I am not the only one who will feel this way. Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow, guys who have played one or two games will feel the same, and it's part and parcel of touring."

Broad says he still has the desire to play for his country in the longest format despite such a painful tour.

He added: "Has it affected my hunger to play Test cricket? No. Looking at things pragmatically, I would argue that I won't get a better chance to take wickets than at Brisbane and Melbourne. But I must be ready for my next opportunity, whether that be in Sydney, Hobart or beyond.

"There is a long time between now and the tour of the Caribbean in March and I have never been one to make emotional decisions. So I'm not going to make any spur of the moment calls on my future.

"I feel fit, I've come back from the calf injury feeling strong and I'm taking wickets in the nets. That's all I can do given the lack of tour games and the tight schedule."

England have spent long periods in bio-secure bubbles during the coronavirus pandemic and Broad says the players are feeling the impact of restrictions imposed on them.

He continued. "This tour has taken its toll on all of us. Without sounding like making excuses, we may be at the end of our mental tether with Covid.

"We are the only team that has played solid international cricket throughout the pandemic and our multi-format guys had already done 50 days in a bubble before they turned up here.

"We spent day two of the Boxing Day Test match testing for Covid and having guys moving out of their hotel rooms, away from their families, so they were no longer classed as close contacts.

"When you are faffing about with external stuff like that, it drags your focus away from where it needs to be."

Under-pressure England head coach Chris Silverwood will be absent for the fourth Test in Sydney, having tested positive for coronavirus while he was already in isolation due to what was a seventh positive COVID-19 case in the touring party. 

England head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19 during his team's dismal Ashes tour.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed Silverwood, who was already due to miss the fourth Test, had joined the number of positive cases in and around the team camp.

It emerged after the Melbourne Boxing Day Test that a member of Silverwood's family had tested positive.

That set up the possibility that Silverwood himself may have come into sufficiently close contact to be infected.

Silverwood was forced to isolate, ruling him out of the Sydney Cricket Ground clash with Australia, which begins Down Under on Wednesday. Now, a positive test means he must wait to rejoin the team.

England are expecting him to be available again to take the reins for the series closer in Hobart, starting on January 14. In the meantime, batting coach Graham Thorpe is stepping up to direct team operations.

In a widely reported statement, the ECB said: "England men's head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Silverwood has been isolating in Melbourne since December 30 following a positive test from one of his family members. He will remain in isolation until January 8.

"Silverwood is asymptomatic and is fully vaccinated. He is expected to return to the England party in Hobart ahead of the fifth Ashes Test."

The news comes after England great Graham Gooch expressed dismay at England's inability to be competitive in Australia.

They have already lost the series, after suffering heavy defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, with Silverwood's position coming under scrutiny.

Speaking to Stats Perform, former captain and opener Gooch said: "I'm bitterly disappointed because losing a Test match is one thing, losing a series is one thing.

"But, what's really concerning for me is the lack of competitiveness of our team against Australia not only in the match at Melbourne, but in the previous two matches. 

"They've outplayed us, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded us in all three Tests, in most of the sessions.

"We've had a couple of half sessions, which we've done well with Joe Root and Dawid Malan scoring a few runs, Jimmy Anderson bowling a brilliant spell to help England dismiss Australia at the MCG for 267. But apart from that, we've been lacking."

Off-spinner Nathan Lyon says there are no dead rubbers as Australia chases a 5-0 whitewash of England in the 2021-22 Ashes.

Australia leads the series 3-0 after three dominant victories ahead of the fourth Ashes Test starting on Wednesday at the SCG.

There has been speculation about the make-up of the Australian side given they have already secured a series victory with dilemmas on Josh Hazlewood's fitness and Scott Boland's place along with talk of a second spinner in Mitch Swepson.

Lyon, who has taken 12 wickets in the three Tests, insisted Australia were determined to pursue victory and pick the best side possible.

"There's no more dead rubbers - and I've never considered them when you wear a baggy green - firstly because there's the World Test Championship and we want to go 5-0 up," Lyon told reporters on Sunday.

"If the conditions suit then we pick the best team to win that Test to make sure we keep moving forward. The Ashes for me is the pinnacle but I'd love to be part of a Test Championship final to state our case for the number one team in the world."

Australia missed out on the World Test Championship final last year, finishing third behind winners New Zealand and India. The Aussies have won the past two Ashes on home soil 4-0 and 5-0 respectively.

Lyon endorsed fellow spinner Swepson, who is set to get Test opportunities in 2022 with tours of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India to come.

"I love bowling in partnership with spinners for sure," Lyon said. "I've done it a lot in subcontinent conditions so if the opportunity does come to play two spinners I know we'll really enjoy building that partnership. We've been doing it in the nets but it's a lot different."

Hazlewood, who has missed the past two Tests with a side injury, is expected to train fully with the group on Monday and could replace Boland who took 7-6 in the second innings of the third Test.

England star Jos Buttler insisted that he has no intentions to retire from Test cricket despite a crushing Ashes series loss to Australia.

Buttler declared he would play without fear ahead of his first red-ball series Down Under but has since mustered just 96 runs from the opening three outings, averaging just 19.2 against Pat Cummins' relentless bowling attack.

The wicketkeeper is not the only England batter to have struggled, given Chris Silverwood's side have already succumbed to a series defeat against Australia before a ball has even been bowled in the penultimate Test in Sydney.

After Quinton de Kock announced he was hanging up his South Africa whites to focus on his young family and limited-overs cricket, questions were raised whether the multi-format Buttler would follow suit and arrive at a similar conclusion.

But 31-year-old knocked back those suggestions on Saturday as he expressed his commitment to the longest form of the game, despite England's beleaguered Test team struggling recently.

He responded to reporters questioning his plans to continue playing red-ball cricket: "It's certainly my ambition. I don't think I'd have put as much into it as I have done if it wasn't.

"I have fantastic family support – they're very supportive of me and my career, and make a lot of sacrifices for that. It's certainly maintained my drive and ambition to try and play [Test cricket]."

 

He added: "That's Quinton's own personal situation. As a huge fan of his, I'm disappointed that he's at that stage. I love watching him bat, keep wicket and play Test cricket. 

"I commend him for making a decision that's right for him. But I feel I've got that support and in a place where I want to try to make it work."

Amid speculation over Silverwood's future following another thrashing to the old enemy Australia, Buttler and his team-mates now have the chance to prove their worth in the final two Tests in early January.

And Buttler reassured that all of the England camp are pulling in the same direction as they look to play for pride with their series out of their reach.

"One thing is we're massively in it all together," he continued. "We live it all together and we want to play well for each other. It's frustrating for Chris he's not here with us [due to COVID-19] – another complication of the tour – but we're certainly very united.

"There is an overriding sense of disappointment and frustration with the situation we've found ourselves in. We certainly don’t want to be a team to lose 5-0."

England have a chance to right some of their wrongs when they next challenge Australia on Tuesday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Only so much of the blame for England's poor Ashes series can lie with captain Joe Root, according to former skipper Graham Gooch.

Australia have already retained the Ashes with two Tests to spare, having established an unassailable 3-0 lead, dominating the opening three matches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Root has been one of the only England batters to perform well, going on to become the leading run-scorer as the nation's Test captain, a role he has fulfilled since 2017.

He will lead England out for a record 60th time in the fourth Test in Sydney, overtaking Alastair Cook's tally of 59, while 26 per cent of all the team's runs were scored by Root in 2021, with the Yorkshireman plundering 1,708 in total.

However, England have averaged just 187.5 with the bat in six innings, failing to score more than 300 in any of the first three Tests down under, and Root's leadership abilities have come under scrutiny.

But after Chris Woakes backed the 31-year-old to stay on, Gooch has also offered his support to Root, but suggested the skipper may need to take a more realistic view on his team's scenario.

"I like Joe a lot. He's a brilliant player; a world-class player. He's not a bad captain; I don't think it’s his fault," Gooch, who scored 8,900 Test runs for England between 1975 and 1995, told Stats Perform.

"But to keep saying we’re close to Australia, that we can feel it coming, and one good session or one good day is going to turn it around. I don't think that’s going to wash really. We've been comprehensively beaten.

"I think it's a bit galling for us ex-pros and captains to hear."

Gooch, fourth on the all-time list for runs scored as England's Test captain, also paid tribute to the victorious Australia, whose strong displays he feels have played a major part in the tourists' slump.

Asked whether he believed the outcome of the Series was down to the hosts' performances or a poor showing by England, he said: "I think it's a bit of both.

"I think you've got Australia doing what they do best. They're aggressive, they're ruthless. If they smell blood, they capitalise on it.

"It's not because England have been so poor; they have not allowed England to be successful."

England's lack of competitiveness during the ongoing Ashes series is a cause for huge concern, according to former opening batsman Graham Gooch.

Australia have already retained the Ashes with two Tests to spare, having established an unassailable 3-0 lead.

The hosts have taken full advantage against their lacklustre opponents, dominating the opening three Tests in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Gooch, who scored 8,900 Test runs for England between 1975 and 1995, expressed his disappointment with the visitors’ performances thus far.

And he feels it is the manner of the defeats sparks the biggest cause for concern.

"I'm bitterly disappointed because losing a Test match is one thing, losing a series is one thing," he told Stats Perform. 

"But, what's really concerning for me is the lack of competitiveness of our team against Australia not only in the match at Melbourne, but in the previous two matches. 

"They've outplayed us, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded us in all three Tests, in most of the sessions. 

"We've had a couple of half sessions, which we've done well with Joe Root and Dawid Malan scoring a few runs, Jimmy Anderson bowling a brilliant spell to help England dismiss Australia at the MCG for 267. 

"But apart from that, we've been lacking."

Gooch also refused to point the finger of blame at squad selection, insisting England undoubtedly have the resources to produce the goods.

"I don't think you can argue with the selection as a squad. They've got the squad there," he added. "I can't see any glaring errors. 

"The only thing you possibly could do is you could revisit some of the players that you've had in the past and say: 'are they better than some of these younger ones?'

"You can never argue against putting youth in the team because that's your future if they come in, and they do quite well, hopefully you've got a player for, let's say, a decade."

The Cricket West Indies (CWI) interim selection panel has announced the squads for the upcoming series against Ireland and England.

Captain Kieron Pollard is fit again and returns to lead both the ODI and T20 sides that will battle the Irish in three ODIs and one T20I at Sabina Park, in Jamaica, starting January 8.

The CG Insurance ODI Series between West Indies and Ireland will form part of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League, in which the top seven teams can secure automatic qualification for the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in India.

The West Indies are currently eighth in those standings with 40 points, while Ireland sits fourth with 50.

The Caribbean side will then play five T20 Internationals against England, in Barbados, beginning on January 22.

“We have tried to maintain the general make-up of the squads from the Pakistan tour before Christmas, with the captain and some senior players coming back in. The challenges in the next couple of months are getting the young players in both squads to not only improve on their skills but maintain the attitude and desire we saw in Pakistan,” said West Indies coach Phil Simmons.

Simmons also emphasized the need for his team to start the year on a good note.

“We do need to start the year on a high. We know both Ireland and England have very good teams so we expect a very strong challenge as we look to improve our chances of automatic qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2023 and building the team for the ICC T20 World Cup in 2022,” Simmons added.

ODI squad for the Ireland Series: Kieron Pollard (captain), Shai Hope (vice-captain), Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Justin Greaves, Jason Holder, Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph, Gudakesh Motie, Jayden Seales, Nicholas Pooran, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, Devon Thomas, and the COVID-19 reserves are Keacy Carty and Sheldon Cottrell.

T20I squad for Ireland and England Series: Kieron Pollard (captain), Nicholas Pooran (vice-captain), Fabian Allen (England T20Is only), Darren Bravo (England T20Is only), Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell, Dominic Drakes, Shai Hope, Akeal Hosein, Jason Holder, Brandon King, Kyle Mayers, Rovman Powell, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, Hayden Walsh Jr, and the COVID-19 reserves are Jayden Seales, Alzarri Joseph, and Devon Thomas.

Fabian Allen is fully recovered from an ankle injury but is unavailable for the Ireland series after a positive COVID-19 test.

Australian batsman Travis Head has been ruled out of the fourth Ashes Test and returning a positive test for Covid-19.

Cricket Australia confirmed that the 28-year-old is asymptomatic and will not fly with the squad to Sydney on Friday for the fourth Ashes Test due to start at the SCG on January 5.

The remainder of the Australian squad, their families and the team's support staff have undergone PCR and RAT tests on Friday and are still planning to travel to Sydney on Friday.

A Cricket Australia spokesperson said: “As part of our testing procedures, we are PCR testing players, their families and our support staff daily. Unfortunately, Travis returned a positive Covid-19 result earlier today. Thankfully, he is asymptomatic at this stage. We anticipate that he will be available to play in the fifth men’s Ashes Test in Hobart.

“We are grateful to our exceptional medical staff for all the work they have done throughout this series and we will continue to work with and support the players, their families and staff from both teams.”

Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have joined the Australian squad as additional cover as a precautionary measure, although Usman Khawaja appears most likely to replace Head in the XI.

On Friday, there was a huge jump in confirmed Covid-19 cases in Sydney, were the fourth Test will be played, with 21,151 infections diagnosed up from 12,226 on Thursday.

The Boxing Day Test earlier this week was jeopardized after positive cases within the England camp, while Third Test match referee David Boon tested positive on Thursday.

Australia captain Pat Cummins missed the second Test in Adelaide after being a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Head becomes the first player to miss a Test in the Ashes series due to testing positive as Covid-19 closes in on the series.

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