England captain Joe Root ready for career-defining Ashes series

England captain Joe Root has declared himself ready for an Ashes series that will “define my captaincy”.

Friendly foes: Australia's Pat Cummins  and England's Joe Root during the Ashes Series Launch at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia. Pictures: Jason O'Brien/PA
Friendly foes: Australia's Pat Cummins and England's Joe Root during the Ashes Series Launch at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia. Pictures: Jason O'Brien/PA

Statistically, Root is already his country’s most successful Test leader, overtaking mentor Michael Vaughan in the summer when he oversaw a 27th victory over India at Headingley.

But he has yet to get the better of Australia, having suffered a 4-0 defeat in his previous campaign Down Under followed by a 2-2 draw in 2019 which saw the tourists retain the urn.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

So when Root steps out for the first Test at The Gabba on Wednesday, he knows his very reputation is on the line.

Blow-up: A giant replica urn is seen during the Ashes Series Launch at The Gabba in Brisbane.

“Of course it will define my captaincy, I’m not naive enough to think it won’t,” he said at a series launch that saw him come to face-to-face with his latest opposite number, Pat Cummins.

“If you look how hard it’s been for English captains and English teams (to win in Australia) over the years, it has been something which doesn’t happen very often.

“But what a great opportunity. I’m very excited about it and can’t want for the series to get going.”

The numbers do make uneasy reading. England have triumphed just once behind enemy lines in the last eight trips, losing nine of their last 10 Tests and drawing the other.

The standout success of 2010-11, when Sir Andrew Strauss fronted a famous 3-1 win, accounts for half of their Test victories in Australia over the past 30 years.

For Root, that historical adversity is the perfect backdrop to do something special – not just for him as a captain but for each of his team-mates.

Asked if his squad had what it takes to meet the challenge ahead, he said: “What better stage to really grab a series and make an announcement on the international stage? To say, ‘I’m an Ashes player and I want to live in the history of this great rivalry’. That carrot is there for everyone.”

Australia have decided to go on the front foot with team selection, naming their XI three days early and confirming spots for Mitchell Starc and Travis Head, England are biding their time.

The kick-off event, which included a giant inflatable Ashes urn and a few blasts of pyrotechnic flames to set the mood, saw Root flanked by pace bowler Mark Wood and batter Ollie Pope.

Both men are hopeful, but not certain, of making the cut for the series opener. Wood’s extra venom makes him an attractive option at a venue known for its lively surfaces, but a poor weather forecast and an unusually green pitch means swing and seam could be equally useful weapons.

“Obviously this place, they keep telling us, is renowned for pace bowling, so I hope I can get a game,” said Wood.

“Hopefully, if I get the nod, I’ll try and perform well. It’s about not bowling too short, that’s maybe where you can get sucked in. It’s all right saying the right things now but when you’re out there and you see the first one fly through it’s like, ‘Oh, here we go’.”

Pope, meanwhile, is involved in a straight head-to-head with the more experienced Jonny Bairstow to complete England’s top six. Should he get the nod, Pope will be looking to offer Australian assistant coach Michael Di Venuto a reminder of the talent he helped nurture during their time together at Surrey.

“I worked closely with Diva, he was there the first three years of my professional career as head coach and batting coach,” said Pope. “He gave me a lot of confidence, he really backed me as a cricketer. To have him rate you, like he did back then, was a great confidence booster.”

Australia head coach Justin Langer had said he was keen to keep England guessing about the final make-up of his XI but the hosts instead chose to give an early look at their side.

Starc saw off stiff competition from in-form seamer Jhye Richardson, who pushed his case with eight wickets and a player-of-the-match performance on his most recent Sheffield Shield trip to Brisbane last month.

Head, meanwhile, got the nod over Usman Khawaja and will come in at number five.

Cummins, who will captain the side following the tawdry defenestration of Tim Paine, said the latter call had been a close run thing. “It was a tight one. They are both really good options. Experience is great from Ussie and we feel really lucky to have that in the squad, but Trav’s been playing a lot for us the last couple of years.

“He’s gone away and he’s churned out runs in England, here in Australia, and we feel like he’s really ready to go.”

While Cummins is right about the 27-year-old’s current form in home conditions – he averages 49.25 in five outings for South Australia this summer – he may have been guilty of overstating his recent efforts in the County Championship.

He averaged just 18.30 in six matches as Sussex’s overseas professional in 2021.