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Joe Root has backed the players whose failures with the bat ushered England towards a crushing Test defeat against New Zealand at Edgbaston, insisting that he must shoulder much of the blame for their disappointing performances and that as a group they have the potential to excel in forthcoming Test series against India and the Ashes in Australia.
A series of collective failures, particularly in their second innings – England’s average score in five completed second innings this year is 136 – as well as the travails of several individual batsmen, has led to widespread criticism of the group assembled for this series.
“From what I’ve seen from this batting lineup, when the pressure comes on, the intensity of Test cricket, the scrutiny of it, they can’t handle it,” Sir Alastair Cook told the BBC. “When the pressure comes they are not handling the mental pressure that you need to do. It is a massive area of concern for me.”
Root, however, insisted that “every single one of those guys has proven they can score big Test runs” and that an overhaul at this point in the team’s development would be counterproductive. “I think it would be the wrong time to start panicking and trying to rip up all the hard work we’ve done for such a long period of time,” he said. “It’s something that historically we’ve done going into big tournaments and big Test series, and it’s made things even worse.”
The captain’s own form has not helped: in his past five Tests, Root has averaged 20.7, including innings of four and an excruciating, 61-ball 11 in this match. His troubles have potentially added to the pressure faced by less experienced players such as Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Dan Lawrence, all 23, and the 24-year-old James Bracey, who had such a painful introduction to the international game in this series.
“As the leading run-scorer within our squad currently I feel like I’ve put a lot of pressure on those guys by not performing myself,” Root said. “As a captain you pride yourself on getting big runs and leading from the front, and I’ve not managed to follow through on that. So I’ve probably compounded the situation slightly.
“From my point of view, as Test captain, it’s about trying to put in performances and help this group of players win as many games as possible. There are some very talented players around the country, and very talented players in this dressing room, who have done wonderful things in the Test match shirt. We have had a poor week, a poor series, and have got to front up to that. It doesn’t make them bad players.”
By the time the India series gets under way at Trent Bridge in August England should be strengthened by the returns of some important players missing from this series, with Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes among the high-profile names ruled out by a combination of injury, rotation and Covid-enforced quarantine.
“One thing we have got from these games is that we have more knowledge on certain players that have been in and around the squad for a period of time, and we are better off for that,” Root said. “I’d like to think that if we are all fit and ready we will have our best XI for the five Test matches against India, which is a very exciting series for us. That will give us a huge amount of confidence, having that experience back.”
New Zealand also have India on their minds, with the World Test Championship final starting in Southampton on Thursday. This victory means they go into that game at No 1 in the world rankings, a status that has been earned largely by results at home rather than on their travels. “It’s not easy winning away from home around the world nowadays, so for us to come here and pull this off is a huge achievement, but on the other hand we know we’ve got another huge Test match coming up in a week’s time,” said Tom Latham, who stood in as captain at Edgbaston with Kane Williamson nursing a minor elbow injury.
Impressive as it was for Latham to resist the urge to crow, this was an exemplary team performance from a much-changed side, and earned New Zealand only their third series win in this country, and the first since 1999.
“We’ve just not managed the game as well as they did,” Root said. “They’ve exploited the conditions better at certain times. We didn’t get the runs in the first innings, we missed chances in the field, and yesterday with the bat we were poor. Sometimes in Test cricket you can have a poor session with the ball and you’re still very much in the game but a session that like can cost you a Test. That’s where we find ourselves. It’s cost us the series and we have some hard lessons to learn.”