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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Captain Root backs his under-fire players ahead of 2nd Test


‘COVID has had quite an effect on our consistency in backing up teams, whether that be workload through having to rotate players or through the conditions.’

IMAGE: England’s Jonny Bairstow celebrates with teammates after running out India’s Ajinkya Rahane during the first Test, at Trent Bridge, in Nottingham. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

England skipper Joe Root has backed his under-fire players ahead of the second Test against India, saying the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the continuity of the team but no one can question its work ethics.

England were skittled out for 183 in their first innings and conceded a 95-run lead to India. Root then scored a second innings hundred as the hosts put up 303 to set India a tricky target.

The match, however, ended in a draw after rain washed out the final day.

Following the batting unit’s poor show, England came under sharp criticism, with former captain Geoffrey Boycott slamming the batsmen for showing lack of patience and technique.

“You see the guys put in the work time and time again. One thing you can never question about anyone in this team is their work ethic. I think everyone throws everything into their practice and does everything they can to make themselves better,” Root said during a virtual press-conference.

“COVID has had quite an effect on our consistency in backing up teams, whether that be workload through having to rotate players or through the conditions, it’s been a difficult thing to get continuity in that respect.”

Boycott blamed the temptation of poking at the ball on too much focus on one-day cricket.

“In Test cricket, it’s a fine margin, it’s a fine balance. Of course, you need a strong technique to be able to trust your defence, but you also need to be able to apply pressure on occasions,” Root said.

The skipper said rotating strike would be the key to success for his under fire batsmen.

“It’s about getting off the strike. I think that’s a really important thing, to rotate the strike, get down the other end,” said Root said, ahead of the second Test at Lord’s, beginning on Thursday.

“Just rotate; we don’t need to necessarily go out and crush it to the boundary ropes once-twice an over, but it is important to get that balance between scoring, defending and managing certain passages of play.

“So it’s certainly something that we discussed as a team; how we can do that better. Ultimately, it’s about managing out on the field, not just doing it well in practice,” said the 30-year-old, who scored 64 and 109 in his two innings in first Test.

Spin all-rounder Moeen Ali, who hasn’t played a Test on home soil since the 2019 Ashes, was brought back by England to lend balance to the side ahead of the second Test.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of him. He’s a wonderful cricketer across the formats. He has the ability to go out there and win games with bat and ball. He’s proven in the past,” Root said.

“He plays best cricket when he’s enjoying it and he’s full of confidence. I’m quite happy to give him a huge amount of responsibility if he gets a chance to play, because he responds extremely well to that.

“He is a leader within the dressing room, has a great personality, drags people with him, so it’d be great to have him back again.”

The hosts may ring in another change by recalling Haseeb Hameed, who scored a century (112) in the warm-up clash against the Indians.

“One thing I’d say about Has (Haseeb) is that ever since the first day I met him I’ve been extremely impressed with him as a person, with his maturity as a young man…,” Root said.

“I think that served him really well during a difficult spell in his career and now you’re seeing him come into some really good form. I think his game has grown as well, he’s added shots to what is a very strong defence and has turned himself into a brilliant player. His work ethic is outstanding.

“If he gets an opportunity, I’m sure he’ll look to take it with both hands and try to make the position his own in this team.”

England’s skipper also welcomed the ICC’s decision to push for cricket’s inclusion in the 2028 Olympics and said ‘The Hundred’, the latest 100-ball format, would fit the bill.

“It’d be great to see cricket in the Olympics. The Hundred’ seems to fit the bill, isn’t it? It would be fantastic to get cricket on that stage, what an opportunity it would be.”

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