The Ashes: Joe Root expecting England to rally in adversity against Australia in Sydney

Joe Root will become England’s longest-serving Test captain when he leads his country for the 60th time in Sydney tonight, but will only be satisfied if he can mark the occasion with a much-needed victory.

By Rory Dollard, PA
Monday, 3rd January 2022, 10:38 pm
England's Joe Root prepares and his players ahead of a ohoto shoot at the Sydney Cricket Ground Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA
England's Joe Root prepares and his players ahead of a ohoto shoot at the Sydney Cricket Ground Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA

Root levelled predecessor Sir Alastair Cook on 59 games during the Boxing Day rout in Melbourne and will break new ground when he steps out at the SCG on Wednesday.

But the mood is hardly one of celebration around the England camp. The series has gone, scattered to the four corners of the MCG in the aftermath of an innings defeat, and the continued creep of Covid-19 has made for an anxious week off the field.

With head coach Chris Silverwood one of four backroom staff isolating with the virus, Root’s leadership role has expanded even further in the run-up to the match.

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England players gather in a huddle to listen to stand-in head coach Graham Thorpe during a nets session at the Sydney Cricket Ground Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA

After four-and-a-half years at the helm nobody knows the landscape better than the Yorkshireman, and he is well aware that only a vast improvement of his side would allow him to truly savour the moment.

“I’m immensely proud to have been given the opportunity to do this. That’s not wavered from day one and it won’t until it finishes, whenever that is,” he said.

“I’m very passionate about playing for England, then to captain England as well is a huge honour. All I ever want to do is try to get the best out of the group, to see us perform and play at a level everyone back home is proud of.

“It’s hurt me deeply that we’ve not managed to do that on this trip and I’m desperate for us to put in those performances. I really care about the role and it would be nice to finish this tour off in a much better way.

England's Joe Root, pictured during a press conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday. Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA

“I’d love to be able to walk away here, more than anything, with a win. Personal goals make you proud and it means you are pulling your weight and giving your team a good chance of winning, but nothing compares to winning a Test match and I’m desperate to do that.”

Root is happy to acknowledge the SCG as “an iconic” venue but it is also one that represents unfinished business for him.

As well as suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis here four years ago as a 4-0 series defeat was wrapped up, it was this ground where Root was dropped for the only time by England in 2014.

It is a memory that has never left him and one he has been passing on to his struggling team-mates.

“It’s important if guys haven’t been in that situation before and haven’t had to deal with that, you share your own experiences,” he said.

“I remember being left out, how upset I was...how angry I was. You learn lessons from that. They are some of the conversations you need to have. Sydney is obviously a special Test match.

“You look at some of the performances in previous tours...you look at 2010/11, winning here and how special that was. That will live long in the memory of fans and players.

“It was here Goughy (Darren Gough) got a hat-trick. It’s a venue where a number of special things have happened for England players and it’s an opportunity to do just that.”

England are busy finalising their team and Stuart Broad’s name is sure to occupy much of the discussion. The 35-year-old, England’s third highest Ashes wicket-taker with 120, has only been picked once so far, and is frustrated at missing out on seaming pitches in Brisbane and Melbourne.

“He’ll obviously be disappointed to have missed out, as is everyone when they don’t play,” said Root. “All I’d say is from Stuart’s point of view is when he gets his opportunity he’s going to look to take it. He’s someone who always tries to prove everybody wrong and when he’s missed out in the past he’s done that extremely well.”

The backroom team has been stretched to breaking point in Sydney by the enforced absences of head coach Silverwood, Jon Lewis, Jeetan Patel and Darren Veness – all of whom are isolating with coronavirus.

Other support staff have been drafted in to support training drills, including those from the communications and medical teams, while Root has been throwing himself into the extra work and hopes an even tighter bond comes out of their recent trials.

“With the amount of coaches we have had missing, it has made things disjointed and challenging but it is a chance to come together,” he said.

“You have to stand up and fill those voids where they are. It does not come just from me. Every single player has to muck in to give everyone the best chance to train as well as they can.

“Training looked very different yesterday and today but it is an opportunity for us to help each other out, get tight and stand up in a bit of adversity.

“Sometimes when you look around the dressing room and see someone who has helped you out, it can galvanise you as a team.

“That is what we need now: stick tight, stay together.”