Joe Root 'desperate' to face Australia but refuses to commit to Ashes as ECB player talks continue

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Joe Root would become the first captain since Johnny Douglas a century ago to skipper on two tours to Australia - AFP
Joe Root would become the first captain since Johnny Douglas a century ago to skipper on two tours to Australia - AFP

Ian Watmore, the chairman of the England & Wales Cricket Board, insists the board are working hard to “avoid any withdrawals” from the Ashes tour but the series will be in doubt until the squad flies to Australia.

England are expected to pick the Ashes squad next week, after the players have been given final details of quarantine and Covid arrangements. Any that decide to withdraw will tell the England management before the Ashes squad is picked.

The Test specialists are expected to leave for Australia on Nov 4 or 5 with those playing in the Twenty20 World Cup joining up after that competition finishes on Nov 15.

With captain Joe Root failing to fully commit to the tour on Tuesday, there are still tricky negotiations to be held with the England players as they hold out for the best possible conditions for their families to travel to Australia.

“We’re working hard to avoid any withdrawals,” said Watmore. “Cricket Australia know what we need to make the tour successful, and they’re working with their government and state governments to deliver it. We need to see the detail, check it out with the players and management, and either push back or commit. We’re only part-way through the process.

“It’s not a red-line type of discussion, but we’re working hard to provide an environment in which our players and their families want to go and perform to their best. If Australia can deliver that, then great. If not, we may have to have more challenging discussions.

“We are trying to get the best environment to get the whole squad out there. It is a complicated picture. There is no simple ‘It must be decided by x’, apart from when that plane goes to Australia.”

Root, speaking after he was named the Cinch Professional Cricketers’ Association player of the year, is expected to make himself available and many players will follow his lead.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad have committed publicly to touring Australia - PA
James Anderson and Stuart Broad have committed publicly to touring Australia - PA

“I feel it’s so hard to make a definite decision until you know,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we get all the information. I’m desperate to be part of an Ashes series, I always am, it’s that one series, as an England player, that you want to be involved in and that will never change.

“So, of course I’m desperate to go, for the group we’ve all got to find out what the position is and make a decision on the back of that.”

The players’ anxiety will not have been helped on Tuesday by the news that Tasmania’s Sheffield Shield match in Brisbane was cancelled because of four Covid cases in Queensland, the venue for the first Test. The players fear being locked down if a state government takes a hard line over any Covid outbreak.

“Everyone wants the Ashes to go ahead in the existing time window and we’re trying to find the conditions to make that work,” said Watmore. “Australia have a federal system, which adds complications, so we have to work through that.”

It has been a very difficult month for the ECB, with the abandonment of the fifth Test against India at Old Trafford and the cancellation of the Pakistan tour.

Watmore, speaking for the first time about the Pakistan decision, admitted the call was made by the board without consulting the players and reiterated it was taken to protect their mental well-being at the start of a busy winter. He declined to comment on the security advice given to the ECB, and the specific threat made to the New Zealand team was not shared with the board.

Ian Watmore, Chairman of the ECB looks on during Day Five of the Bob Willis Trophy Final match between Somerset and Essex at Lord's Cricket Ground on September 27, 2020 in London, England - GETTY IMAGES
Ian Watmore, Chairman of the ECB looks on during Day Five of the Bob Willis Trophy Final match between Somerset and Essex at Lord's Cricket Ground on September 27, 2020 in London, England - GETTY IMAGES

“I’m very sorry to anyone who feels hurt or let down by our decision, particularly in Pakistan. The decision the board made was an extremely difficult one.

“I won’t go into details, but we received advice on security and player welfare and took the decision we made. We had to make it quickly because of the short term to the World Cup and the New Zealand exodus from Pakistan. They were all factors, but the primary consideration was the welfare of the players.

“The board took the decision based on its own judgments and it didn’t go out to wider consultation. Had we decided to go forward with the tour, we’d have had to put the proposals to TEPP (the body that represents England players) and the PCA, but it didn’t reach that point.”

The decision was met with widespread anger in Pakistan. Ramiz Raja, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, accused England of a “western bloc” mentality and that Pakistan had been “used and binned” after touring in England at the height of the Covid crisis in 2020. Watmore’s lack of explanation will do little to placate their anger and they will still worry that England’s full tour in 2022 will not go ahead.

“We will have longer to plan for 2022 and this trip was impacted by events very close to the time frame. I don’t know if you read President Biden’s mind but I didn’t know he was going to evacuate Afghanistan or that New Zealand would pull out whilst effectively warming up on the pitch. We have to think through those options next year and what we would do in those situations and have answers to them so we don’t get caught out.

“We need to rebuild our relationship with Pakistan and will refocus on going there in 2022. This wasn’t the right time. Obviously we’re extremely grateful to Pakistan coming here last year and we will do everything we can to deliver the scheduled tour next year.”

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Root was named PCA player of the year - an award that normally goes to a county player - for his outstanding series against India when he scored three hundreds in three Tests and regained the No 1 spot in the ICC rankings.

Eve Jones won the PCA women’s player of the year and 17-year-old Alice Capsey was named the first winner of the young women’s player of the year prize. Root’s Yorkshire team-mate, Harry Brook, won the men’s young player of the year award; all were voted for by fellow professionals.

Somehow Root will have to ensure his players’ minds are on winning the Ashes after the distraction surrounding whether the tour will go ahead.

England lost 4-0 and 5-0 on his previous two tours to Australia and Root’s average there is only 38.00 with a high score of 87 from nine Tests.

His last Ashes tour ended with him on a drip in a Sydney hospital as heat exhaustion and a stomach bug struck him down as England lost the final Test.

“Everyone’s got to make sure that they, regardless of what the decision they finally make is, has that at the forefront of their thinking right now – what do I need to do to perform well, whether that’s with bat, ball, collectively, as a group,” he said. “What are the challenges that Australia pose, those conditions pose, that a tour like that poses, and how can we get the best out of ourselves to go and win over there. Those are discussions that we’ve continued to have throughout the summer, and we’ve been building up to this series for a little while now, so that’s not changed throughout all of this.”

Joe Root was speaking following the 52nd cinch PCA Awards, the biggest awards ceremony in English cricket

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