England captain Joe Root has called on his side to seize the moment in their series decider against Pakistan, with uncertainty over when and where they will next get the chance to play Test cricket.
The third Test at the Ageas Bowl represents their sixth in just seven weeks as part of a packed fixture list caused by the coronavirus lockdown, but the feast is about to turn to famine for the country’s red-ball stars.
Their next scheduled series is a trip to India in the new year but the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic means all future tours are shrouded in a degree of doubt.
It seems likely that contest could still go ahead in the United Arab Emirates but, having seen widespread cancellations and postponements around the world, Root has reminded his players that the next five days is all they can bank on.
England go into the match 1-0 up, having already seen off the West Indies 2-1, and the skipper wants to see a big performance to finish.
“My message to the guys today was quite simple really: we don’t know when the next time is that we’ll play Test cricket so let’s make sure we throw everything into this week,” said Root.
“Let’s make sure we leave no stones unturned and we give everything to each other and the badge going into this last game. We feel extremely lucky to have got the opportunity to play right now. At the start of the summer, we were dreading the thought of not seeing any international cricket.
- 1st Test v West Indies: Lost by 4 wickets
- 2nd Test v West Indies: Won by 113 runs
- 3rd Test v West Indies: Won by 239 runs
- 1st Test v Pakistan: Won by 3 wickets
- 2nd Test v Pakistan: Draw
“Credit to both touring teams for coming over and giving us that opportunity to play, and to both boards, it’s been amazing to be a part of this experience. Hopefully we can have a great finish to it.”
Jofra Archer is set to return to the XI as England continue to shuffle their plentiful seam resources, with Mark Wood also straining at the leash after four successive matches on the sidelines.
Archer is widely viewed as the next leader of the attack and a new-ball spearhead when either James Anderson or Stuart Broad finally exits the stage, but Root is not looking to use him in that role over the coming days.
“I think there may be a time for that to come in the future and more likely abroad,” explained Root.
“In these conditions, you pick those two bowlers (Broad and Anderson) to take the new ball. They’ve done it, they are so experienced, they set the tone extremely well and they are the best to exploit those conditions first up.
“The exciting thing is that you’ve then got Jofra to come in and hopefully get the ball zipping around at 90mph plus. It has been made very clear what his role is to play this week, Spoons (head coach Chris Silverwood) said as much when he spoke and that gives him real clarity going into the game.
“He’s coming off the back of a rest and he’s full of energy, so hopefully we’ll see him at his best this week.”
On a personal level, victory this week would draw Root level with predecessors Sir Andrew Strauss and Sir Alastair Cook on 24 wins as skipper and in fewer matches than either.
“To be successful as a captain you need some fantastic players and we’ve got loads of talent within this group,” he said.
“With the right attitude and work ethic that we’ve had, especially over the last year or so, then I believe the sky’s the limit. We are capable of so much more.”
— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) August 20, 2020
Behind the scenes Root joined opposite number Azhar Ali in giving his blessing for a last-minute change to the playing conditions in a bid to prevent a repeat of the weather-ruined second Test.
Match referee Chris Broad has now been empowered to pull play forward by half an hour to 10.30am should any play be lost during the game. In addition there is a commitment from the match officials to “maximise playing time while it is still safe to do so”, a recognition of the fact that umpires Richard Kettleborough and Michael Gough may have been too eager to lead the sides off last time around.
“For the environment we find ourselves in and the times that we’re in as well, it seems a really good way of maximising hours of play,” said Root.
“I felt for the umpires last week. They did everything they could by the letter of the law to keep us out there when possible, and I think this will enable us to play a little bit more cricket.”