JOE ROOT has no doubts he is the man to lead England back from the disappointment of surrendering the Ashes on home soil for the first time in 18 years, starting this week at The Oval.
Root’s hopes of getting his hands back on the famous urn, which England lost after a 4-0 beating on the 2017/18 trip Down Under, evaporated at 6.15pm on a hard-fought final day of the fourth Test.
There was no doubting the home side’s desire at Old Trafford, where they defied the tourists for 84.3 overs against the odds but there were still 81 deliveries left to bowl when Josh Hazlewood trapped Craig Overton lbw to leave England 197 all out.
That left Australia with a 185-run win and an unassailable 2-1 lead going into the final match, as well as ensuring Root would be his country’s first skipper not to win the series on home soil since Nasser Hussain in 2001.
Questions over the Yorkshireman’s captaincy have yet to be asked at much more than a murmur, partially because there are no clear cut rivals for the job, but this is the stage on which England’s Test skippers are ultimately judged.
I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard doing my best at that. That is in my control and I have to make sure I keep getting this team in the best shape to win as many games as possible.Joe Root
Root was visibly distraught after seeing his side’s resistance come up short but is single-minded about his own future.
“Definitely, yes,” he said when asked if he felt he was the right man for the job.
“Whenever you lose a series it hurts and I have to take that on the chin. It’s still very raw. You have to look at areas you want to get better at, both in yourself and as a team.
“But I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard doing my best at that. That is in my control and I have to make sure I keep getting this team in the best shape to win as many games as possible.”
There is precious little time to wallow in the aftermath of defeat, their first at the Manchester venue in 11 Tests, with the final international clash of a long, draining and – lest it be forgotten less than two months on from the World Cup win – historic summer of cricket, close at hand.
The fifth Test begins on Thursday and with a score to settle, a series to draw and points up for grabs in the inaugural World Test Championship, Root is focused on the task at hand.
“It’s important to look at next week. We have an important Test match against Australia and we have to make sure we finish this summer strong: do not lose this Ashes series,” he said. “We have the Test championship to play for, do not lose this Ashes series. It matters to me, it matters to everyone involved. I know the Ashes are not coming home but in terms of the Test championship, at the end of the two-year cycle those points could be crucial.
“Every game against Australia matters.”
Had England somehow managed to reach the end of the day, fashioning a fitting sequel to Ben Stokes’s Headingley heroics, there would have been glowing tributes paid to the likes of Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and Overton.
All three faced more than 100 balls as they clung to a foothold in the game, the latter getting Australia twitching as he lingered for two hours and 52 minutes – including a long and stoic stand with Somerset team-mate Jack Leach.
“When you find yourself in a situation like today you learn a lot about your team and the guys. I thought everyone showed a lot of courage, resilience, character and everyone should be really proud about how they approached the day,” said Sheffield’s Root.
“Our guys fought extremely bravely, dug in and put a high price on their wicket. That almost makes it a little bit harder to take but at the same time I could not be more proud with how we fought.
“We constantly believe we can get something out of situations we would not expect so I think that is a strong message and we will put in another real hard shift in and take as much as we can from The Oval.”
Australia’s batting talisman Steve Smith said the victory would take the pressure off the final Test at The Oval, in which England can now do no better than level the series.
Smith said: “There’s another game left and we’d love to win it but to know it’s coming home is extremely satisfying.
“The boys were getting a bit tight out there but with the new ball we thought we’d get enough chances.
“I’ve been here a few times when things haven’t quite gone our way [so] to come back and get the urn here was always one to tick off my bucket list.”