Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Ashes: Root of the matter is England captain's lack of big scores

Batsman needs more than just half-centuries if home team, trailing 1-0, are to win back urn from arch-rivals

England captain Joe Root must lead from the front with the bat and on the field for his team to make a series comeback. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
England captain Joe Root must lead from the front with the bat and on the field for his team to make a series comeback. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

England are in unfamiliar territory and Joe Root's captaincy is facing one of its toughest tests yet.

It is 14 years since England have trailed in a home Ashes series, and how they respond when the second Test gets under way on Wednesday is going to priovide a fascinating insight in to the team's mentality.

The pressure is on Root, both as a player and a captain, to lead by example and turn things around at Lord's.

It was Steve Smith - Root's counterpart when his England side lost the Ashes in 2017/18 - who proved the difference in the first Test at Edgbaston.

Australia were 122-8 on Day 1 in Birmingham before Smith started the comeback with the first of his two hundreds in the match.

It was a true captain's performance in everything apart from the fact that the 30-year-old no longer leads the team after his role in the ball-tampering scandal of March 2018.

England need something similar from their own elite batsman in Root.

He is in good nick, judging by Edgbaston, but he must sell his wicket dearly and galvanise a misfiring batting line-up that needs leadership.

Root made 57 in the first innings in Birmingham, supporting Rory Burns as the opener headed towards his first hundred. But then he gave it away with a meek mistimed drive that gave Peter Siddle catching practice off his own bowling.

He fell for 28 on the last day to Nathan Lyon, and his frustration was clear as his side imploded to go from leading by 90 runs after the first innings to losing heavily by 251 runs.

There was some mitigation. James Anderson's injury meant he bowled only four overs. Then of course Smith put in a sensational effort. The achievement of two hundreds in an Ashes Test should be put in the context of the fact it was only the third time it had been done since 1947.

Only the most demanding England fan would expect Root to replicate that at Lord's. You have to go back to 2008 and Andrew Strauss's 123 and 108 against India in Chennai for the last time an Englishman scored two centuries in the same Test.

But England need more then just half-centuries from Root if they are to win back the urn from their arch-rivals. When Root began his reign, replacing Alastair Cook, he started with a 190 at Lord's against South Africa.

It was a statement of intent as there had been concerns on what the weight of the captaincy could do to his batting. Unfortunately he has been less prolific since, scoring only four more centuries in his next 28 matches.

Two of them, 136 against West Indies at Edgbaston in August 2017, and 125 against India at the Oval last September, came on home soil, but the latter being in a dead rubber.

It is quite the contrast from eight between 2013 and 2016. Given how talented he is, it is a poor return and it is beginning to become an issue, primarily because no one else is picking up the slack.

England's batting has failed to convince for a long time, going back before the start of the Root era.

It was the bowling that was the key to the 4-1 win over No 1 side India last summer, and then the 3-0 triumph in Sri Lanka in the winter.

Much of the hype at Lord's is on what World Cup hero Jofra Archer can do on his Test debut. But even if he hits the ground running in the Test arena, Archer cannot make a difference if England do not score more runs.

The Lord's wicket, judging from pictures this week, has a green tinge to it with the sign that it will offer plenty of movement for the bowlers. That will help England's attack, even without Anderson, but it will also encourage the Australian quicks.

It is going to be difficult, no doubt, but England must strive to stand up better to their visitors. Root has averaged only 32 since May 2018 at home and as England's leading batsman that is not enough.

The problems with inconsistent selection at the top and middle of the order have been well publicised.

Root is the one constant, be it No 3 or No 4. England need more from him, starting at Lord's, if they are to have any hope of repeating the heroics of Michael Vaughan's 2005 side by overturning an Ashes deficit.

Updated: August 14, 2019 08:31 AM

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