England captain Joe Root defended his decision to bat first in the opening Ashes Test against Australia and stood by the selections in their bowling unit despite going down to a heavy nine-wicket defeat at the Gabba on Saturday.
Root won the toss on Wednesday and elected to bat in overcast conditions on a green-tinged track, but that decision backfired immediately with Rory Burns out first ball before England were skittled for 147.
“I think batting first was the right decision,” Root said, pointing out his Australia counterpart Pat Cummins had expressed a similar intention at the toss.
“We just didn’t quite play well enough in that first innings. We get some sort of a score on the board, see how wicket starts to behave today, and we’re looking at very different contexts.”
With seasoned paceman James Anderson not risked as he managed a calf issue, England had surprisingly opted to pick left-arm spinner Jack Leach ahead of veteran seamer Stuart Broad but that decision did not pay off either.
Leach bled 102 runs in his 13 overs for the sole wicket of Marnus Labuschagne.
Root said England had picked a spinner for variation and blamed himself for setting an overly “aggressive” field for the bowler.
“Probably more on my shoulders there and how I managed him rather than looking at the selection of how we went about things,” said the England captain.
With the second Test in Adelaide looming next week, Root said it was too soon to talk about selections.
“I think that’s something that we’ll look at once we get to Adelaide, once we know what the surface looks like and what the conditions are likely to present when we get there,” he added.
“But it’s nice to know that they (Broad and Anderson) should be fit and available and ready to go fresh for those conditions.”
Don’t write Stokes off
Ben Stokes, whose majestic unbeaten 135 at Headingley helped pull off an improbable chase in the 2019 Ashes, made a subdued return in his first competitive match since July.
The 30-year-old managed scores of five and 14 and bowled only 12 wicketless overs after jarring his knee in the match, but Root expected the talismanic all-rounder to make a bigger contribution in the second Test.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be fit for Adelaide and one thing, you write Ben Stokes off at your own peril,” said Root. “He’d be desperate to get back into this series and have a big say in how it all turns out.”
England clawed their way back into the contest riding a 162-run stand between Root (89) and Dawid Malan (82) before the wheels came off on the fourth morning.
The tourists lost eight wickets, three of them before the second new ball was taken, to slump to a heavy defeat.
“It was frustrating. We obviously knew how important that first hour was in particular,” said Root.
“It was really important that we got there unscathed and unfortunately, losing those three wickets ahead of that was bitterly disappointing because we had put a lot of good work in last night.
“However, he said the seeds of the defeat had been sown on day one.
“I look back at this morning with a little bit of disappointment but ultimately when you’re 40 for four in the first innings, it’s very difficult to get back into the game,” he added.
“And when you create as many chances as we did with the ball and not take them, it’s very difficult to look back at just this morning and think that that’s where the game was lost.”