The Root to suc­cess

Skip­per calls for troops to be ruth­less in tour opener

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Stocks in Perth

ENG­LAND cap­tain Joe Root says his team will look to be ruth­less right from the start of this Ashes tour ahead of their open­ing warm-up match against a Western Aus­tralia XI this week­end.

The two-day game starts at the WACA to­mor­row and while Moeen Ali and Steven Finn have been ruled out with re­spec­tive side and knee in­juries, Eng­land will be look­ing to hit the ground run­ning.

When they last won an away Ashes se­ries in 2010-11, the key to suc­cess was treat­ing their tour matches as if they were Tests. That team, led by An­drew Strauss, went on to beat Aus­tralia 3-1. Even though this first of three tour matches will only be played over two days in Perth, Root says Eng­land will play a team as close to their Ashes XI as pos­si­ble as they at­tempt to make a pos­i­tive start to their cam­paign. “We want to be as ruth­less as we can and start the tour as we mean to go on,” said Root.

“Ev­ery­one is ex­cited, you can see there is a de­sire and hunger.

“They are re­ally up for the chal­lenge of this tour.

“Ob­vi­ously, we want to give guys the op­por­tu­nity to play in the mid­dle when those chances arise, but at the same time not at the ex­pense of los­ing and not be­ing at our best. We’ll have the at­ti­tude of try­ing to win the game even though it is a two-dayer.”

Cricket Aus­tralia yes­ter­day named a young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced squad to face Eng­land in their fi­nal two warm-up games for the Ashes in Ade­laide and Townsville. Among the 12man squad, only 32-year-old

Eng­land’s wel­come upon touch­ing down in Aus­tralia con­firmed the rhetoric that the Aussie me­dia will be pump­ing out be­tween now and the start of the men’s Ashes se­ries, as Joe Root’s team were var­i­ously de­scribed as “un­recog­nis­able” and “no­bod­ies” in the lo­cal and na­tional pa­pers.

One out­let de­clared: “Aus­tralia is by no means in­vin­ci­ble, but com­pared to the likes of Vince, Stone­man and Malan, it’s a pow­er­house.” Eng­land are, how­ever, by no means such un­der­dogs as the Aus­tralian Press will have ev­ery­one be­lieve.

The ab­sence of Ben Stokes has cast an un­happy shadow over prepa­ra­tions, of that there is no doubt, and Root will likely be asked to field ques­tions about him even in ab­sen­tia as the se­ries goes on, but they are now pre­pared to be with­out him. That drama has been dealt with as far as the squad is con­cerned for the start of the Ashes.

If (and it is an enor­mous if) he is ul­ti­mately cleared to travel to Aus­tralia, dis­ci­plinary rea­sons aside, there is an ar­gu­ment to say that the me­dia circus that would en­sue would out­weigh the ben­e­fit of hav­ing Stokes join the tour any­way. Would his men­tal state even be strong enough to al­low him to per­form at his best?

Even with­out Stokes and his tal­is­manic po­si­tion in the side, Eng­land sup­port­ers can af­ford to take a more pos­i­tive out­look. In Alas­tair Cook and Joe Root they have undis­puted world class bats­men. James An­der­son and Stu­art Broad are undis­puted world class bowlers. Moeen Ali has shown he can be both an at­tack­ing spin bowler and counter at­tack­ing bats­men, and in Jonny Bairstow, Eng­land have a set­tled keeper, who isn’t far off from be­ing one of the world’s best keeper/bats­men.

Con­trast this with Aus­tralia, who don’t yet know who their keeper will be, they are a man down them­selves with fast bowler James Pat­tin­son un­able to play a part in the se­ries, and they have a huge ques­tion mark over their No.6 slot.

A pop­u­lar pub – or commentary box – ques­tion has been to name all 12 open­ers to have bat­ted along­side Cook since An­drew Strauss’ re­tire­ment in 2012. The Aussies, how­ever, have fielded 13 dif­fer­ent play­ers at Nos 6 and 7 since 2015. Eng­land may not have Stokes, but Aus­tralia don’t have an all rounder like him, ei­ther.

It’s true, the Aussie pub­lic might won­der who Mark Stone­man, James Vince and Dawid Malan, are in the con­text of an Ashes arena, but the point is, Aus­tralia don’t hold all the cards just be­cause Stokes is miss­ing.

It wasn’t long ago, that another Bri­tish team headed South as a be­lea­guered side, writ­ten off by many. When the Lions toured New Zealand in July, they ar­rived with odds stacked against them. They had been pum­melled on the pre­vi­ous tour, fail­ing to win a match un­der Clive Wood­ward. The squad was seem­ingly thrown to­gether with gap­ing holes. On top, a man who was ex­pected to have a huge in­flu­ence on the se­ries at No.8, Billy Vu­nipola, was un­avail­able (through in­jury). Sound fa­mil­iar?

The Lions were taunted by the New Zealand me­dia, and yet played stir­ring rugby, los­ing the first Test but com­ing back to win the sec­ond, then draw­ing a nail bit­ing fi­nal match against a mighty All Blacks side who were World Cham­pi­ons and No.1 in the world. By the end, coach War­ren Gat­land, a Kiwi him­self, who had been mocked up as a clown by the New Zealand Her­ald, was able to state he was “a happy clown this week” be­fore at­tend­ing his fi­nal Press con­fer­ence sport­ing a clown’s red nose.

Eng­land could do worse than draw in­spi­ra­tion from how the Lions sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions. They were helped in no small part by their army of trav­el­ling fans who did their best to turn fortresses like Eden Park, the All Blacks’ spir­i­tual home, into a ca­coph­ony of vis­it­ing sup­port. Eng­land’s Barmy Army, with their witty songs, will have a sig­nif­i­cant role to play, and they usu­ally rise to the oc­ca­sion Down Un­der.

Dur­ing the 2013/14 Ashes there were so many fac­tors that con­trib­uted to the way the tour spi­ralled into obliv­ion. Jonathan Trott was strug­gling with anx­i­ety and packed his bags early; Graeme Swann packed up his en­tire

Eng­land’s Barmy Army, with their witty songs, will have a role to play and they rise to the oc­ca­sion Down Un­der

ca­reer; Kevin Pi­etersen’s re­la­tion­ship with team man­age­ment was com­ing to an ugly head; and Steven Finn’s form went ‘walk­a­bout’ as the Aussies might say, but in a dis­turbingly ex­treme way.

With the Stokes is­sue hap­pen­ing back in the UK, Eng­land should now be fo­cus­ing on the task in hand.

Last week­end, Eng­land rugby head coach Ed­die Jones, a big cricket fan and hard-nosed Aussie him­self, was asked on BBC Ra­dio 5 Live’s Sportsweek pro­gramme how Eng­land should be pre­par­ing to break down an op­po­si­tion who tra­di­tion­ally pride them­selves in ex­pos­ing weak­nesses by word, as much as by deed. “We’re taught to bully peo­ple,” ad­mit­ted Jones.

“That’s how the Aus­tralian crick­eters play. Bul­ly­ing prob­a­bly isn’t the right word, but the first thing they (Eng­land) have got to do is get on the front foot and take away the cock­i­ness. They’ve got to iden­tify who, in the team, they can go at. Find ways of phys­i­cally and men­tally get­ting at him.”

Eng­land will be bet­ter off im­pos­ing them­selves by deed rather than word, though.

Words won’t count for much if Aus­tralia are 350-0 at the end of day one at the Gabba.

Class act: Skip­per Joe Root is ad­mired by the Aussies

Miss­ing: Ben Stokes for Eng­land and James Pat­tin­son, inset, for the Aussies

On the front foot: Joe Root

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

Show­ing their strength: Conor Mur­ray scores a vi­tal try for the Lions dur­ing the sec­ond Test against the All Blacks this sum­mer as they lev­elled the se­ries 1-1. War­ren Gat­land’s side had been dis­missed as no-hop­ers from the start

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