Joe Root vowed to plough on as England’s Test captain as he processed the raw emotion of seeing his side’s bid to regain the Ashes evaporate with the 185-run defeat in Manchester.
Root, 28, has overseen an Ashes defeat away from home in 2017-18 and can only hope to level the current series come Thursday’s fifth Test at the Oval after a defiant rearguard action that ultimately proved in vain.
For a player who has seen his returns with the bat drop off this summer amid the strains of leadership – the right-hander has averaged 30 so far in this series and recorded three ducks – the temptation could be to drop back into the ranks and focus on his own game. Root, however, was defiant.
Asked if he still wanted the job he has held since taking over from Alastair Cook in early 2017, Root replied: “Definitely, yeah. Whenever you lose, it hurts. I have to take that on the chin. You have to look at areas you want to get better at, both in yourself and as a team.
“It is still very raw. [But] I have to look at next week. We have an important Test match against Australia. We have to make sure we finish this summer strong. We have Test championship [points] to play for and do not want to lose this series. It matters to me, it matters to everyone involved. It is a big game.”
England will name their squad for the Oval Test on Monday morning but a vast injection of fresh blood is not expected. Ollie Pope, the 21-year-old Surrey batsman, could well be added given Jason Roy’s disappointing series but may yet struggle to force his way into the XI.
Doubts over whether Ben Stokes can bowl following the shoulder injury suffered on the third day at Old Trafford may well mean he plays as a specialist batsman. If so he may move up to No 4 with another all-rounder – either Sam Curran or Chris Woakes –brought in to share the workload.
England’s failure to recapture the Ashes will doubtless raise questions over a four-year focus on one-day cricket – one that led to this summer’s World Cup triumph – but Root was having none of it, pointing to Steve Smith’s remarkable return to the Test fold as the deciding factor.
Asked if England’s World Cup exertions affected the Test side, Root added: “No, I think that’s an excuse. You turn up to an Ashes series and put everything you can into it. Everyone has done that.
“We’ve not been at our best and we’ve played a good side. Look at a couple of the Tests there has been one guy who has been the difference – that has probably cost us the urn this time around.”
On the impact of white-ball cricket on his bid to shape a Test side generally, he added: “We are in the position we are and we have to make the most of that. I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard at doing my best at that.
“That is in my control and I have to make sure I keep getting this team in the best shape to win as many games as possible.”
Informing Root’s belief that he remains the best man for the job – some may say he is the only man – was the fight shown at Old Trafford in trying to save the game and pull off a second miracle in a fortnight after Stokes’s Headingley heroics.
He said: “When you find yourself in a situation like today you learn a lot about your team and the guys. I thought everyone showed a lot of courage, resilience, character and everyone should be really proud about how they approached the day.
“They dug in and fought and put a high price on their wicket. It almost makes it a little bit harder to take but at the same time, I could not be more proud with how we fought today.
“We were not as good as we would have liked to be and consistent throughout the whole game. Bowling at Steve Smith in his form is difficult and you have to make sure you take all your chances. We did not do that and that cost us.”
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