Cricket: Joe Root says England are still in the Ashes... but worrying signs are there against Australia

Joe Root
Joe Root
0
Have your say

Overnight, as the whole of England slept and dreamed of a famous victory, there was hope.

The tiniest, most fleeting glimmer of it, but hope nonetheless; of a win that would put England in the Ashes record books. Make new heroes. Square the series.

The equation, on the face of it, was fairly simple; England required 178 runs on day five to win the second Test in Adelaide, with six wickets in hand.

The loss of Dawid Malan late the previous evening was a blow, but Joe Root - their captain, their best player, their key man - stood firm on 67 not out.

There was hope. The Barmy Army were in full voice; there wasn't a cloud in the Brisbane sky. A perfect day for batting.

Chris Woakes, the England nightwatchman, dealt with the first ball of the day with ease.

With the second, he was gone, nicking off to Josh Hazlewood on review. Hardly the ideal start, but Moeen Ali strode to the crease. Five Test hundreds to his name. Root still there. Still hope.

Then, the moment that turned the tide; almost certainly the game, possibly the series. Hazlewood found his length, the ball perhaps kept a little low, Root gave it a little tickle. Without adding to his overnight score, he was gone. So were his side's chances. So was the hope.

From there, England lost their last four wickets for 45 runs and surrendered for 233, a defeat of 120 runs. Their No.11, Jimmy Anderson, admitted the night before that England were in trouble if he walked to the crease with more than 10 runs needed. When he strode out with the scoreboard reading '130 runs to win', the writing was on the wall.

In truth, it had been since the first day of this second Test, when Root won the toss and bowled. Australia ended the day 209/4 and eventually declared on 442/8, his former Yorkshire teammate Shaun Marsh unbeaten on 126.

Joe Root

Joe Root

England's debutant Craig Overton top-scored with 41 not out - from No.9 - as Root's men surrendered a first-innings deficit of 215, before Anderson's first five-wicket haul Down Under skittled Australia and gave England half a sniff.

Asked if he regretted the decision to bowl first, Root insisted: "I don't. actually.

"I think you have to give your bowlers the best chance to take ten wickets and in those conditions, with the quality we have, I fully expected these guys to take ten wickets on the first day.

"We lost a bit of time due to the rain on the first day, probably about ten overs with the new ball under lights.

"There are a lot of things to look back on and say we want to do differently, but that decision wasn't one of them."

Regrets, there's still a few; not least at his game. Root ended this Test match, his 62nd, with almost 5,500 runs at an average of 53 - fitting stats for the world's No.2 ranked batsman.

But while passing 50 is just the foundations for greater scores for most top-class batsman, for Root it is often the beginning of the downfall; especially in the second innings of games. His 67 in Adelaide was the 17th second-dig half-century of his career. Only once has he gone on to three figures.

But England's struggles are by no means confined to their captain, who has dug them out of trouble countless times since his Test debut in India back in 2012.

Alastair Cook, for so long the anchor at the top of the England innings, has scored 62 runs in his four innings so far while No.3 James Vince's troubles against pace have continued, aside from a classy 83 in the first Test at the Gabba.

Events so far have only heightened the chasm in the bowling attacks of the two teams, too. Anderson and Woakes enjoyed themselves in the English-style conditions to skittle Australia for 138 in their second innings, but their fast bowlers lack the genuine pace to trouble the hosts when the ball gets old and the swing disappears.

In the battle of the spinners, Nathan Lyon has taken 11 wickets to Ali's two and the absence of Ben Stokes is seemingly being felt more than most predicted.

But still, Root believes his side are "still in the series" ahead of the third Test in a week's time, at the WACA in Perth.

"I thought the way we responded both with ball and bat in the second innings was outstanding, especially the way we played last night in those conditions," the 26-year-old skipper said.

"I thought we showed a lot of character, which is what you want to see in big series like this.

"The way we went about the second innings proved to everyone really we are still massively in this series," Root added.

"We have shown throughout the two games that for periods we can out-perform Australia, but just not for five days, and that is going to be our challenge.

"If we can get that right and perform to our ability for longer periods of time we will win games, simple as that.

"The belief in the dressing room is definitely there."

Root, a veteran of the 5-0 whitewash last time here in 2013/14, sees no similarities between this tour and that but his side's task gets no easier - they have won only one of 13 Ashes Tests at Perth, back in 1978.

But, as the skipper says, there's still belief. And while he and his teammates still believe, there's hope.