We owe it to ourselves to make sure our sacrifices pay off in decider – Root
England captain wants team to ‘throw everything’ at Pakistan Archer likely to rejoin attack and urged to ‘step on the gas’
Storm Ellen will blow through the Ageas Bowl today, bringing winds of up to 60mph and adding one more quirky element into a Test summer like no other.
Global uncertainty means England have no more Test cricket firmed up after this final match against Pakistan.
The three teams – England, Pakistan and West Indies – have taken bio-bubbles in their stride and produced absorbing Test cricket.
The weather ruined the second Test, but there were still glimpses of Mohammad Abbas’s brilliance, Zak Crawley’s potential and Stuart Broad’s everlasting qualities.
There was a tense time in April when the England and Wales Cricket Board feared a blank international summer, and losses that could have reached a staggering £380 million if they had been forced to repay broadcasters.
To pull off the logistical challenge of bringing teams from overseas to play behind closed doors has been a “massive saviour” according to Colin Graves, who presides over his final Test as ECB chairman this week. “Not many people realise how big it has been to achieve that,” he said. England may not always provide a blueprint of how to play
Test cricket, but they have certainly come up with one for staging it in the times of Covid.
Other boards are studying how they have pulled it off and will borrow heavily from their plans when the rest of the cricketing world emerges from its close season over the next couple of months.
Despite the claustrophobic life locked down together since the end of June, bar a couple of days leave between Test series, the players have matched the usual amount of intensity. The pitches have helped to produce even contests, providing seam and spin at all times.
Only three hundreds have been scored in five Tests and it will take a fine effort this week to make it four given the limited time the weather has allowed for pitch preparation.
Joe Root, the England captain, said: “It is so uncertain when we will next play and be together again, so we owe it to ourselves and all the hard work we’ve put in over this period within this bubble that we don’t let ourselves down over these five days.”
“The attitude and effort will be there as always, and we’ll make sure we turn up and throw everything at Pakistan and leave the Test summer with a brilliant performance under our belt. That’s the plan anyway.”
Jofra Archer also appears part of that plan. He should replace Sam Curran, giving England that extra zip if he bowls quickly. Archer struggled in the Old Trafford Ashes Test last year, when the strong winds played havoc with his rhythm. It could be a problem today if England bowl first, but better weather is forecast for the weekend.
Archer has been urged by Chris Silverwood, the head coach, to “step on the gas”, with England worried he has not seized the moment this summer, holding himself back either because he is worried about injury or a lack of game awareness through inexperience.
“It has been made very clear what his role is to play this week, Spoons [Silverwood] said as much when he spoke yesterday, and that gives him real clarity going into the game,” said Root. “I think he’s really keen to show what he can do. He’s coming off the back of a rest and he’s full of energy, so hopefully we’ll see him at his best this week.”
Archer will remain first or second change, with Stuart Broad and James Anderson taking the new ball. Broad will receive a special presentation from the ECB today to mark his 500th Test wicket. Anderson is seven short of his 600th and it would put a fine cap on the summer if he were to achieve it this week. If England go to Sri Lanka for two Tests as expected in January then Anderson may not be picked, so he might face sleeping on 598 or so Test wickets for many months.
England have a series to win, their first against Pakistan for a decade, and a victory would bring Root level with Sir Andrew Strauss and Sir Alastair Cook with 24 wins, but the final Test of the summer sharpens focus on the individual.
Dom Bess has not had it easy. He should keep his place and might have the chance to bowl his side to victory in the final innings. Rory Burns has one score this summer above 57, while Root has not scored a hundred at home when a series has still been alive since the floodlit match against West Indies in September 2017. His insistence that England “owe it to ourselves” applies to him as much as anyone else.
Ready for action: Joe Root (left) and Stuart Broad head for practice yesterday