England skipper Joe Root backs himself to lead Ashes fight with a ton

The Ashes
Joe Root

England captain Joe Root has backed himself to “bang out a hundred” as he plots an Ashes fightback in the Boxing Day Test.

After back-to-back defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, English cricket is in desperate need of some festive cheer in Melbourne and Root is desperate to be the not-so-secret Santa who delivers a special gift for those who decide to power through the night back home.

“I expect a response from our players and I would like to bring a nice Christmas present home for everyone who stays up,” he said.

“I feel in a really good place with my batting. I feel confident I can, in these next three games, bang out a hundred in these conditions.

“I know that’s a brave thing to say but my conversation rate, this year, it’s not been an issue at all.

“I feel like I have managed that well and have an understanding of how I want to score my runs. There’s clarity there, I just need to keep putting myself in those positions, just have the bit between my teeth, (make it) ‘over my dead body’.”

Root has enjoyed a record-breaking 2021, with his haul of 1,630 Test runs placing him in uncharted territory among Englishman and fourth on the all-time list over a calendar year.

He has scored six centuries in that time, conquering conditions in Galle (twice), Chennai, Trent Bridge, Lord’s and Headingley, but knows an Ashes ton behind enemy lines is a notable gap on his otherwise glittering CV.

Joe Root netting at the MCG ahead of the Boxing Day Test.
Joe Root netting at the MCG ahead of the Boxing Day Test (Jason O’Brien/PA)

Scores of 89 and 62 in the first two Tests mean he now has eight unconverted fifties on Australian soil and, with the urn on the line at 2-0 down, his side have never needed him more.

The MCG’s marquee occasion, in front of 70,000 fans, would be the perfect stage, and Root could also have the added bonus of reclaiming the world number one spot from Australian counterpart Marnus Labuschagne, who leapfrogged him last week.

“I’ve never been one for that stuff, but it would be nice to have it back for Christmas,” he said with a smile.

There was less levity in Root’s tone at the end of the draining day/night Test in Adelaide, after which he ditched his mild-mannered persona to lead a stern dressing room debrief that pace bowler Mark Wood described as “a kick up the bum”.

Those words are likely to lead to actions, with Rory Burns set to be dropped for a returning Zak Crawley at the head of the innings, Ollie Pope’s place under threat from Jonny Bairstow and Wood poised to come in for Chris Woakes.

England could make it four changes if they go back to spinner Jack Leach but will need to assess the pitch over the next 48 hours before making a decision.

Asked if chastising the troops came easily to him, Root said: “It did at the end of the last game because of the situation we’re in and the manner in which we lost.

“I’ll always try to look at things with a level, pragmatic approach, but I don’t think you could after the way we’ve played those last two games. I expect a response from everyone this week. I just hope it’s not too late.

“There is plenty of motivation for the group and we are doing everything we can to make sure it is 2-1 by the time we leave here. If we perform anywhere like we can do, we’ll put them in an uncomfortable position, we’ll push back and we’ll find ourselves in a very different situation leaving this ground.”

One player who will not be paying with his place is wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, who dropped three catches, including a barely believable fumble off Labuschagne.

A 207-ball rearguard on day five suggested his head had not been scrambled by the mistakes and he retains his skipper’s support.

“Anyone in that situation, whether keeping or at first slip, you drop one of their best players and you just want the world to swallow you up,” he said.

“But the next day he turned up and he was back to himself again. His mind is is the place it needs to be to perform in this arena.”

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