Joe Root didn’t back away from the contentious calls to bat first in the Ashes series opener when conditions appeared to heavily favor the bowlers, or on a team selection that omitted England’s two most experienced pacemen.
One regret he had after England’s nine-wicket loss to Australia at the Gabba on Saturday was not giving left-arm spinner Jack Leach more protection against some aggressive batting.
Leach was punished by the batsmen, conceding 102 runs for one wicket and going for almost eight runs per over on a pitch that didn’t really take much conventional turn but did offer plenty of bounce to suit Australian spinner Nathan Lyon.
Travis Head, who scored 152, and David Warner, who scored 94 in Australia’s first innings of 425, were particularly attacking against Leach, who was playing his first test since March and his first ever in Australian conditions.
Root said setting a more defensive field would have helped Leach gain some confidence and “ease into the series.”
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 11, 2021
“I put a lot of that on myself … made it very difficult for him and it’s probably more on my shoulders than looking at the selection,” he said.
Leach’s place in the starting XI was only confirmed at the coin toss, with England hoping to get a more varied attack by leaving out fast bowler Stuart Broad.
It didn’t help that England wasn’t defending many runs, having lost a wicket on the first ball of the series and been dismissed for 147 just before heavy rain ended play on Day 1.
“If we go about things the way we did on the last two tours we’ll get the same result,” Root said, reflecting on England’s last two tours to Australia which included nine losses, one draw and no wins. “We have to be brave. I look back and think (batting) was the right decision.
“In terms of selection, we could have gone a different way (but) we wanted variety in our attack and ways of changing things.”
“We managed to find some nice rhythm, me and [Malan]”
“A number of guys have looked very good throughout this game”
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 11, 2021
Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes created opportunities for England, but some missed catches and poor fielding let them down. Allrounder Ben Stokes was restricted in his first test since March, had issued with his run-up and the popping crease, and appeared to be bothered by injury.
A veteran of four Ashes tours to Australia, Broad was a surprising omission, a decision confirmed a day after the news that 39-year-old Jimmy Anderson, who has been to Australia on five Ashes tours, would be rested for the series opener.
The pair have a combined 1,156 wickets from 315 test matches, but are coming off injuries. They will both come into calculations for the second test — a day-night match starting Thursday at the Adelaide Oval. Their ability to swing the ball could be pivotal for England in those conditions.
“You can’t question the guys that were out there – our seamers created so many chances – we just weren’t good enough to take them,” Root said. “But it’s nice to know (Broad and Anderson) should be fit and available and ready to go,” for Adelaide.
After Adelaide, the five-test series moves to Melbourne for the traditional Boxing Day test starting Dec. 26, then to Sydney and Hobart in January.