Joe Root has called on his England team to “stand up and be counted” ahead of “one of the biggest games of our lives”.
England go into the third Test at the WACA – a venue where they have lost their last seven Tests – needing at least a draw to keep alive their hopes of retaining the Ashes. But, after a week in which his team’s reputation has again been dragged through the mud, Root feels they need a good performance not just to claw their way back into the series, but to win back the respect of the general public.
“Frustrated” is a word that crops up a lot with Root right now. He is “frustrated” that his team are 2-0 down despite having shown, in patches, that they could do better. He’s “frustrated” that he is spending his time talking about boozing rather than batting. And he is “frustrated” that a couple of players could add fuel to the flames by behaving foolishly when they knew the eyes of the media were upon them. He used the word seven times in his brief chat with members of the UK media on Tuesday. His expression screamed it.
But while he accepts a couple of his players have been guilty of “a little bit of naivety” and they “have to be smarter” in the way they go about their private lives, he insists recent reports do not accurately portray the character of his team.
“We, as a group, will not brag or boast about stuff we do away from the game or stuff we do to help other people because they’re good blokes, they’re good people,” Root said. “But unfortunately incidents like that let us down and lead people to believe otherwise.
“The majority of things have been done right for the majority of the time by the majority of the group. And the one thing I’m really proud of and one of this group’s big strengths is we do look after each other. That’s proof that we are good blokes and good human beings. We care about each other and, though the lads may have done some stupid stuff, we are all in this together and we are only going to win if we stick together.
“It’s frustrating that, in the circumstances we’re in, guys have made silly mistakes that are going to get blown out of proportion. So we have to be smarter as a group. The guys have to learn very quickly.
“[The way we’re being portrayed] It’s not us as a team. A lot of the stuff that’s been spouted is giving ammunition to stuff that isn’t us. I think there has been a little bit of naivety. And that’s frustrating.
“It’s annoying that a lot of the talk is about stuff off the field. I’m fed up of talking about stuff that isn’t cricket.
“Ultimately the only way we can change that is by winning games of cricket. We have to make sure we perform well this week and win. We have to get people talking about the cricket. And if we win this week and go to Melbourne with the score 2-1, then the whole dynamic of the series changes and we’ve proved to ourselves that we’re right in this contest.
“We still believe we can win the series but we now need to prove that to everyone else. The only way we’ll do that is by winning.”
To that end, Root hopes his entire squad will be able to put off-field distractions out of their minds so they can focus on their cricket. For England’s task was tough enough even before Butt-gate and Duck-gate. In particular, Root knows England have to improve on a batting record that has seen the side reach 250 only once in their four innings in the series.
“We have to score more runs as a batting group,” he said. “It’s easy to single out individuals but ultimately it’s about doing it as a collective.
“Nathan Lyon has been a big threat in the first two games where it has spun. It might be slightly different here. But if it is the same, we have to know how we are going to play it and how are we going to break him down.
“So it’s time to stand up and be counted. We’re going into one of the biggest games of our lives. If we can stand up in the face of adversity and put in a big performance, that’s what people want to see.
“It’s about winning. That’s what’s going to really get people back on side. We have to get it right on Thursday.
“That’s the opportunity that’s in front of this group: to go and win here at the WACA for the first time in a long time. And if we get that right then there is no reason we can’t be sat here 2-1 next week.”