Ashes: Whether England win or lose, this should be Joe Root’s last series as captain


It was an image that encapsulated the whole sorry mess of another disastrous away Ashes campaign ending in crushing defeat.

There was Joe Root, on his first tour as England captain, flat out in the Sydney dressing room after a visit to hospital to be treated for severe dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting.

He had been left stricken and beaten into the ground along with his shell-shocked team by Australia and temperatures touching 44°C. England’s attempt to explain his condition away as a bug was barely credible.

The jury has remained out on Joe Root the captain ever since the 2017-18 Ashes series

Root's men suffered a 4-0 thrashing that had played out like so many in Australia before it

Root’s men suffered a 4-0 thrashing that had played out like so many in Australia before it

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So ill was Root at the end of England’s last away Ashes four years ago that Jimmy Anderson had to conduct media duties at the SCG after a 4-0 thrashing that had played out like so many in Australia before it. 

Only the flattest of Melbourne pitches stopped the series ending in England’s third 5-0 whitewash in their last four trips to Australia.

In truth it was a tour destined to fail from the start when Ben Stokes, so crucial to England on and off the pitch, had effectively ruled himself out by getting involved in the incident in Bristol that would land him in court.

Then, sensing an area of weakness they could exploit, an Australian player helped two members of their media concoct a story towards the end of the first Test involving Jonny Bairstow and what was imaginatively described as a ‘head-butt’ on Cameron Bancroft in a Perth bar on the first night of the tour.

He knows it is his last chance to lift the urn as skipper but his plans have not gone accordingly

He knows it is his last chance to lift the urn as skipper but his plans have not gone accordingly

The label of England as an indisciplined rabble happier with drinks in their hands than a bat or ball was set and there was little their inexperienced captain could do to stop the rot.

The jury has remained out on Root the captain — but certainly not the batsman — ever since and he approaches his third Ashes in charge knowing it must surely be his last chance to join the pantheon of England captains who have lifted the urn.

There is even an argument that, win or lose, this should be Root’s last series as captain so he can spend the rest of his peak years and beyond concentrating on scoring the runs that remain integral to England’s success.

Root had been so determined to ensure this Ashes tour was different. From the moment Chris Silverwood replaced Trevor Bayliss as coach after the last drawn Ashes in 2019, planning began for the first Test in Brisbane that begins at midnight on Tuesday. 

England were to meet Australian fire with fire, ensuring their three fastest bowlers in Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone were fit and raring to go so the attack could truly thrive in conditions that so often negate English seam strengths.

Jofra Archer (right) is injured long-term while Mark Wood (centre) is unlikely to play more than three Ashes Tests

Jofra Archer (right) is injured long-term while Mark Wood (centre) is unlikely to play more than three Ashes Tests

Dom Sibley (left) and Zak Crawley (right), who had been pencilled into the Ashes top three, have lost their places

Dom Sibley (left) and Zak Crawley (right), who had been pencilled into the Ashes top three, have lost their places

And an established batting line-up would be bedded in over two years to make sure England had the experience to cope with anything Australia’s formidable pace attack could throw at them. But it has not worked out that way.

Archer and Stone are injured for the long term and Wood’s problems with his left ankle resurfaced during the Twenty20 World Cup and make it unlikely he can play in more than three of the five Tests.

The batting, meanwhile, has stuttered, with Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, who had been pencilled into the Ashes top three, losing their places and Ollie Pope struggling to build on the promise that seemed to mark him out as England’s next great Test batsman.

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Most of all, England’s best-laid plans have been knocked for six by Covid, the restrictions and mental pressures of bubble life that came with it and the failure of a well-intentioned but flawed rest-and-rotation policy that failed to prioritise Test cricket.

All of which has added to the pressure on Root, who has coped admirably with everything fate has thrown at him even throughout a home summer where England were beaten by New Zealand and trailed India before a last Test abandonment.

Now unseasonally bad weather in Queensland has rendered England’s Ashes preparations all but non-existent. But there is hope and it comes from that La Nina weather pattern which, as Bayliss outlined in these pages on Thursday, could bring England’s seamers Anderson and Stuart Broad back into the equation.

Mainly, though, England’s chances of pulling off a big upset in Australia lie in the hands of their captain and batting this year that, despite everything, has seen Root elevated from the very good to the truly great again.

Gone are the days when Root, seemingly affected by the demands of leadership, would effortlessly reach 50 before throwing it away with a lapse of concentration. 

England's chances of pulling off an upset in Australia lie in the hands of the captain and batting

England’s chances of pulling off an upset in Australia lie in the hands of the captain and batting

He thought long and hard about his technique and approach during a rare inactive spell ahead of England’s tour of Sri Lanka at the start of this year and since making minor adjustments has hit double-centuries on tour against Sri Lanka and India and three more centuries against India last summer.

As long as he can maintain this run of form then England’s Ashes aspirations and his captaincy will be very much alive. 

But even in the absence of any viable leadership alternatives, the time is coming, approaching his 31st birthday, for Root to think about himself and of becoming one of the all-time batting greats.

Finally lifting that elusive urn would be some way to go out.

But the time is coming for Root to think about becoming one of the all-time batting greats

But the time is coming for Root to think about becoming one of the all-time batting greats



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