Joe Root believes Australia’s laugh-a-minute victory press conference may come back to haunt the hosts in this winter’s Ashes.
England’s captain was understandably less amused than some by Cameron Bancroft’s party-piece recollection, lapped up by Root’s chuckling opposite number Steve Smith, of the moment Jonny Bairstow delivered his strange ‘head-butt’ greeting for the Australia opener.
It was a gesture, benign in nature if not necessarily some descriptions, dating back to the start of England’s campaign in a Perth bar last month, but which Bairstow was reminded of during the second innings of the first Test.
Bancroft delivered his comic turn in the glow of Australia’s 10-wicket win at the Gabba and as Root’s men seek to bounce back this weekend, in the inaugural day-night Ashes Test in Adelaide, he hinted the ridiculing of Bairstow may eventually prove an unwise move.
“If that’s not motivation to the players, I don’t know what is,” he said. “To see a reaction like that in a press conference – if that can’t get you up for the next game I don’t know what can.
“I hope that will work massively in our favour.
“Knowing the characters in our dressing room that will really give them a bit of something else to make sure we put things right this week.”
Summing up Australia’s portrayal of Bairstow’s perceived faux pas, he added: “It is just a smokescreen, an attempt at derailing.
“It’s a strategy they use on occasions; we all knew it was blown widely out of proportion.”
Root’s England will not be shy of returning fire in some form, but the captain does not subscribe to the notion anything goes in pursuit of Ashes victory.
“I think their line and our line are slightly different things – let’s leave it at that,” he said.
If that’s not motivation to the players, I don’t know what is. To see a reaction like that in a press conference – if that can’t get you up for the next game I don’t know what can.England captain, Joe Root
“The thing on my mind is how we respond and make sure we do it in our way and not get dragged into doing it their way.
“That’s not how we operate as a team. I think it’s very important we don’t get involved in petty disputes and arguments that are nothing to do with cricket.”
Root and Bairstow’s former Yorkshire team-mate Peter Handscomb ramped up the rivalry further yesterday when he insisted the hosts planned further mental disintegration for the England wicket-keeper.
Handscomb counts Bairstow as a friend after playing with him for Yorkshire last summer, but as Australia look to go 2-0 up he agreed that all sledging was ‘fair game’ when it came to the Ashes.
“I’m not trying to make him feel good about himself – that’s not my job,” said Handscomb, who was front and centre in Brisbane as the hosts laid into Bairstow.
“When I played with him at Yorkshire we had a great time together – we got along really, really well. But it’s a different ball game now.”
One other vexed topic for Sheffield-born Root, meanwhile, shows no sign of abating.
Ben Stokes is set to play for Canterbury Kings in New Zealand on Sunday, while still waiting to see if he will be charged after being arrested back in September on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm.
Police have handed the file to the CPS, a stage of proceedings which can take several weeks and appears to have scuppered Stokes’s Ashes prospects.
Root said: “I would personally love to have him back. But these things are completely out of our hands, and wehave to move on.”
To that end, he is telling his team this is their chance to grab the limelight.
“This is their chance to stand up and do something a character like Ben would do on the field,” he said. “If you do that on this stage, in this arena, your career is pretty much laid out for you.”
Root does not think it healthy to waste energy on what might have been, and appears resigned to Stokes’s tour-long absence.
“I could get upset and annoyed,” he added, “but as a group, moaning or being disruptive won’t help us win games.”
Chris Waters: Page 25