BRISBANE: England pacer James Anderson attends a nets session at the Gabba on Monday.—AFP
BRISBANE: England pacer James Anderson attends a nets session at the Gabba on Monday.—AFP

BRISBANE: England captain Joe Root chose to keep his likely playing 11 under wraps and was guarded on his intentions if he wins the toss when he spoke Monday for the last time before the first Ashes Test against Australia.

Root addressed media before news broke that the fifth Test of the series will now not go ahead in Perth because of concern over quarantine requirements.

Australian captain Pat Cummins took the bold step on Sunday of confirming his match lineup, three days before the series begins at Brisbane’s Gabba ground.

Cummins revealed that Travis Head had edged Usman Khawaja for the final place in Australia’s top order and that veteran paceman Mitchell Starc will play ahead of Jhye Richardson.

Root skirted issues around the makeup of his batting and bowling lineups. He chose not to discuss whether Haseeb Hameed might retain his place in England’s top three or whether Jonny Bairstow or Ollie Pope might bat at number six. Nor did he address the question of whether veteran quicks James Anderson and Stuart Broad both might play.

But he left little doubt that Ben Stokes would be in the team.

All-rounder Stokes was a late addition to the squad after taking an indefinite break from the game in July to focus on his mental health, while also recovering from a second operation on a broken finger.

Stokes, who tortured Australia with an unbeaten 135 at Headingley to pull off an improbable run chase in the 2019 Ashes, made light of his long layoff by taking 2-31 and scoring 42 not out against the England Lions last week.

“It’s really been good to see Ben back involved in the frame of things and to get into the limited game time that we had, and to look as good as he did as well,” Root told reporters at the Gabba.

“I always know that when he gets into that game, he’ll want to put his mark on it, put his stamp on it.”

Asked about whether he would need to manage the number of overs Stokes bowled, Root said it was important not to pile too much expectation on the 30-year-old after four months on the sidelines.

“Our whole bowling group, collectively, we can work together to take those wickets,” Root said. “I’m sure Ben will have a big say in that. It’s something we’ll be definitely working to get right this whole series, particularly in that first game.”

Root denied he was indulging in mind games in delaying his team announcement in the face of Australia’s clarity.

“I’m not into mind games,” Root said. “I’m just not in a position right now to name our team. The fact they’ve named their 11 doesn’t really concern me or change anything from our perspective. We’ll conduct our business how we want to and let you know when were ready.”

Root said he had not yet seen the Gabba pitch and couldn’t venture a view on whether he might bowl first if he wins the toss Wednesday. He received the news from an Australian journalist that the pitch looks green, as nothing more than one might expect with a fast bowler as Australia’s captain.

“Pat’s already put a stamp on things as a fast bowler and captain of Australia,” Root said. “We’ll have a look and if it’s green, let’s see how it looks again tomorrow and on the morning of the game. I’ve not got any clear idea of what I want to do at the toss as yet. Well leave that as late as possible.”

PERTH AXED AS HOST OF FIFTH TEST

Meanwhile, Cricket Australia on Monday confirmed the fifth Test no longer will be played in Perth. The governing body said bio-security requirements, which would have required players to quarantine on arrival in Western Australia, were too difficult to overcome.

An alternative venue hasnt yet been named but Hobart in Tasmania may be the front-runner. Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales states, along with Australian Capital Territory also have expressed interest in hosting the match.

“We are very disappointed that we are unable to stage the fifth Ashes Test at Perth Stadium,” Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said. “We did everything we could in partnership with the WA Government and WA Cricket to make it work under the current border and health arrangements. But unfortunately this was not possible.”

Earlier, the South Australia Cricket Association said the second Test will go ahead in Adelaide next week as scheduled, rebuffing a late call from Western Australia to swap the second and fifth Tests.

Western Australia officials suggested the England and Australia players could fly directly to Perth from Brisbane after the first Test, avoiding quarantine.

South Australian Cricket Association acting chief executive Jodie Newton said any change “would be a logistical nightmare.”

Western Australia has largely managed to keep Covid-19 out of the state with strict controls and it currently bans travellers from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia from crossing its border without undergoing 14 days quarantine.

The fourth Test is scheduled to finish in the New South Wales capital of Sydney on Jan 9, leaving insufficient time for the players to complete their period of isolation.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021

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