Joe Root has no doubts he is the man to lead England back from the disappointment of surrendering the Ashes on home soil for the first time in 18 years, starting next week at The Oval.
Root’s hopes of getting his hands back on the famous urn, which England lost after a 4-0 beating on the 2017/18 trip Down Under, evaporated at 6.15pm on a hard-fought final day of the fourth Test.
There was no doubting the home side’s desire at Old Trafford, where they defied the tourists for 84.3 overs against the odds but there were still 81 deliveries left to bowl when Josh Hazlewood trapped Craig Overton lbw to leave England 197 all out.
That left Australia with a 185-run win and an unassailable 2-1 lead going into the final match, as well as ensuring Root would be his country’s first skipper not to win the series on home soil since Nasser Hussain in 2001.
Questions over his captaincy have yet to be asked at much more than a murmur, partially because there are no clear cut rivals for the job, but this is the stage on which England’s Test skippers are ultimately judged.
Root was visibly distraught after seeing his side’s resistance come up short but is single-minded about his own future.
“Definitely, yes,” he said when asked if he felt he was the right man for the job.
“Whenever you lose a series it hurts and I have to take that on the chin. It’s still very raw. You have to look at areas you want to get better at, both in yourself and as a team.
“But I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard 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.”
There is precious little time to wallow in the aftermath of defeat, their first at the Manchester venue in 11 Tests, with the final international clash of a long, draining and – lest it be forgotten less than two months on from the World Cup win – historic summer of cricket, close at hand.
The fifth Test begins on Thursday and with a score to settle, a series to draw and points up for grabs in the inaugural World Test Championship, Root is focused on the task at hand.
“It’s important to look at next week. We have an important Test match against Australia and we have to make sure we finish this summer strong: do not lose this Ashes series,” he said.
“We have the Test championship to play for, do not lose this Ashes series. It matters to me, it matters to everyone involved. I know the Ashes are not coming home but in terms of the Test championship, at the end of the two-year cycle those points could be crucial.
“Every game against Australia matters.”
Had England somehow managed to reach the end of the day, fashioning a fitting sequel to Ben Stokes’ Headingley heroics, there would have been glowing tributes paid to the likes of Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and Overton.
All three faced more than 100 balls as they clung to a foothold in the game, the latter getting Australia twitching as he lingered for two hours and 52 minutes – including a long and stoic stand with Somerset team-mate Jack Leach.
“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,” said Root.
“Our guys fought extremely bravely, dug in and put a high price on their wicket. That almost makes it a little bit harder to take but at the same time I could not be more proud with how we fought.
“We constantly believe we can get something out of situations we would not expect so I think that is a strong message and we will put in another real hard shift in and take as much as we can from The Oval.”
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Australia had to face an excruciating wait on the final day of the fourth Ashes Test but the visitors held firm to clinch a 185-run win just minutes before the close of play to take a decisive 2-1 lead in the series.
It saw Tim Paine become the first Australian skipper since Steve Waugh in 2001 to retain the Ashes urn on English soil and it came on the back of a determined and disciplined bowling display by the visitors on the final day.
While Steve Smith has carried Australia nearly single-handedly with the bat in the series, it is Pat Cummins who has spearheaded an excellent pace attack with aplomb.
The No1 ranked Test bowler in the world was in his elements again on Sunday at Old Trafford with a tireless display that played its part in carving up a hard-fought win for Australia.
Here, we take a closer look at Cummins’ bowling display in the second innings of the fourth Ashes Test.
SECOND INNINGS STATS
Runs conceded: 43
The Aussie pacer gave the visitors the perfect start with the ball late on Day Four with the double-strike of Rory Burns and England skipper Joe Root in the first over of the innings. He broke England’s resistance early on the final day as well with the dismissals of Jason Roy and Headingley hero Ben Stokes in the opening session.
The 26-year-old kept toiling at the English batsmen with extended bowling spells following some stiff resistance from the lower order but he was unable to complete what would have been a much-deserved five-wicket haul in the innings.
Cummins’ delivery to shatter Joe Root’s stumps for a golden duck will probably go down as the ball of the series with the manner in which it held its line after pitching on off-stump. However, the pacer’s display was not just about moments of sheer brilliance but more a testament to his unwavering stamina and focus.
While England’s batsmen frustrated Australia for large parts of the day, Cummins continued to maintain his intensity in nearly every spell despite having to bowl a large number of overs.
The Aussie bowled 24 overs in the second innings while Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc bowled only approximately 30 overs between themselves. Despite having to carry most of the pace workload, Cummins was unrelenting with his excellent lines and lengths and continued to trouble the English batsmen.
The pacer was enforcer and workhorse in equal measure at Manchester as he has been throughout the series and was always ready to answer his skipper Tim Paine’s call no matter what the situation.
Steve Smith has been magnificent, super-human almost, but don't forget the bowlers that take the wickets. Pat Cummins has been excellent throughout and Josh Hazlewood is always good.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) September 8, 2019
The only time where Cummins’ effort levels dropped in the day came towards the end of the second session where his speeds were noticeably down from his morning spell. Even then, his lines and lengths remained on point and he was soon firing on all cylinders once again when the hectic final session of the day came around.
VERDICT – 9/10
Steve Smith will deservedly take the plaudits but Cummins’ own magnificent effort cannot be ignored. The pacer finished as the highest wicket-taker in the preceding Ashes series win on home soil for Australia and he is now set to repeat that feat after extending his tally in the ongoing series to 22.
He has been on the money from the first Test at Edgbaston and has continued to get stronger in the series despite playing four matches on the bounce. His immense work-rate and stamina highlights the considerable improvement he has made to his fitness since his injury prone days of a few years ago.
Cummins had vowed to play all five Tests in the series upon his arrival in England and he is on course to fulfil that objective in some style. He is the player of the series with the ball so far by a clear distance.
Remember when Pat Cummins was the broken fast bowler of Australian cricket. He has graduated to being the constant in their fast-bowling ranks in an impressive “ASHES” campaign.— Ian bishop (@irbishi) September 8, 2019
England captain Joe Root expressed his disappointment at losing the Ashes but hailed the character of his side in pushing Australia to the wire.
Another rearguard action at Old Trafford fell short as the visitors triumphed by 185 runs to ensure the famous trophy will remain Down Under.
Root told Sky Sports: “I thought we showed great character, great fight and great belief in what we wanted to achieve.
“As last week we always believed, we always make sure we fight right until the end and we tried our hardest today.
“You can always look at different areas where you could have done things slightly differently but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort the guys put in today.”
A strong ninth wicket stand between Craig Overton and Jack Leach had briefly raised hopes of another stunning England escape, and Australia captain Tim Paine hailed his side’s resilience.
Paine said: “I was really proud today with how our bowlers kept sticking at it.
"This has been the most challenging week of my coaching career - and now the most satisfying"— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 8, 2019
Justin Langer on @SkyCricket discussing how the Aussies bounced back from Headingley #Ashes pic.twitter.com/0nGs41R0yH
“This team’s been through a lot in the last 12 to 18 months and I think the character we’ve shown to bounce back – even from Headingley – shows a lot about the character of the people we’ve got in our side.
“It’s been an unbelievable series, it’s been intense, every game’s gone pretty
much down to the wire and that’s what we expected and prepared for.”
Australia’s batting talisman Steve Smith said the victory would take the pressure off the final Test at The Oval, in which England can now do no better than level the series.
Smith said: “There’s another game left and we’d love to win it but to know it’s coming home is extremely satisfying.
“The boys were getting a bit tight out there but with the new ball we thought we’d get enough chances.
“I’ve been here a few times when things haven’t quite gone our way [so] to come back and get the urn here was always one to tick off my bucket list.”
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