Ashes tour diary: No cause for celebration for birthday boy Joe Root as Australia keep their options open

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  • Chris Silverwood
    English Test and county cricketer (born 1975)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After the news that head coach Chris Silverwood will miss the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney after one of his family members contracted the virus, England are continuing their preparations with assistant coach Graham Thorpe taking charge of the team.

Here, Standard Sport’s cricket correspondent Will Macpherson provides the latest instalment of his Australia tour diary...

England short of dog throwers

The loss of Chris Silverwood leaves England short of bowling expertise and ball-throwers in the nets among their coaching staff ahead of the Sydney Test.

Should they test negative, all of spin bowling coach Jeetan Patel, fast bowling coach Jon Lewis and Strength and Conditioning Coach Daz Veness could join the squad for day two of the match, when their isolation period ends.

Silverwood’s official isolation period ends at a similar time, as he is currently only a close contact. But at this stage, he wants to remain with his family until their term of isolation ends. If he continues to Test negative, he may decide later in the week that his family are comfortable without him, and he can travel to Sydney around the time of the Test.

Graham Thorpe is in charge, and led another low-key net session at the MCG this morning. England’s bowlers from the Third Test turned up, bar Ben Stokes, while Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed were back alongside the unused batters from Melbourne.

Only Thorpe and Ant Botha are experienced dog throwers among the group, meaning members of security staff and Rory Burns were trying their hand.

“We found out late last night,” said Jimmy Anderson. “It’s frustrating, we’ve been tested again this morning – the whole team – and just hoping it’s not spreading any further and we can make sure everyone is safe and able to travel to Sydney.

“Frustrating for him but hopefully we’re trying to control the spread as much as possible, use the safety protocols around the hotel.”

The England party, however, must get through one last round of Tests today before the Sydney Test can even be contemplated.

Walls closing in

It is hard to avoid the sense that the virus is getting very close to causing major disruption to Australian cricket.

Not only have those seven members of the England party tested positive, but David Boon, the Australian legend and current Match Referee, has tested positive, ruling him out of the Fourth Test. Steve Bernard, a member of the International Panel of ICC Referees and based in NSW, will step in, with the hope being that Boon, a Tasmanian, will be able to return for the final Test in Hobart. If that happens.

And the Big Bash has been hit too. Melbourne Stars against Perth Scorchers was cancelled due to a single positive test among a member of the Stars’ support team; a curious contrast to the Fourth Test, which charged on as scheduled in similar circumstances.

To minimise risk, the England and Australia teams are now getting separate flights to Sydney, rather than going together.

No cause for celebration

Thursday was Joe Root’s 31st birthday. With the Ashes lost, trying to avoid Covid was probably not how he imagined spending it but, as he might say, it is what it is. Only Alastair Cook had scored more Test runs by his 31st than Root.

At a similar stage of the tour four years ago, Root picked up a gastro virus at his son Alf’s first birthday party. That seems rather small fry considering what they are trying to keep out of the camp now.

All options open

Much interest in the possibility of Mitchell Swepson, the Queensland leggie, debuting in Sydney. Selection chief George Bailey said there was no doubt Swepson was ready. "If the conditions suit, we’d love to give Sweppo a crack,” he said.

There is no certainty Scott Boland would play, even after that extraordinary debut, as Josh Hazlewood is limbering up after his side strain, while Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins were kindly given two extra days of rest by England after the Third Test. Hazlewood, Bailey said, would be trusted to make his own call on whether he was ready or not.

“I’d much rather have that headache and some tough decisions to make than scratching our heads trying to find a solution to a problem,” said Bailey.

“So I’m looking forward to working through that one and some hard conversations to have at some stage but would love nothing more than to have a full squad to be able to pick from.”

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