At least Joe Root was able to smile when he was reminded England would be doing Australia a huge favour by beating India and salvaging a drawn series from this toughest of Test assignments.
Victory for England in the final Test which starts on Thursday would not only be a notable achievement for Root after their trial by spin in the last two chastening matches. It would also eliminate India from the World Test Championship and send the old enemy to this summer’s final instead.
‘I wouldn’t see it as helping Australia,’ insisted Root, with his game face back on. ‘I would see it as ending with a drawn series and doing something special in India.
England captain Joe Root has carried an upbeat demeanour throughout a demanding winter
‘Unfortunately, we can’t qualify for the final now but a draw would be a fantastic achievement and that’s all I can really say as an England captain.’
There was no obvious change to the upbeat demeanour Root has carried throughout a demanding winter that even saw him sharing the spin bowling load during those two ridiculous days in Ahmedabad last week.
He is determined there will be no ‘baggage’ when a Test team that had been showing notable improvement under Root and coach Chris Silverwood return to the Narendra Modi Stadium to again face twin spin tormentors Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel.
Root is advocating a more proactive batting approach on what is sure to be another raging turner even though India only need a draw to advance to a Test Championship final against New Zealand that could be played in front of a big Lord’s crowd in late June.
England are 2-1 down in the series going into the fourth and final Test against India
Jofra Archer said in his Sportsmail column on Tuesday that Root wants England to be ‘fearless’ in Ahmedabad but the captain said that does not mean ditching the more orthodox batting approach that served them so well in the last 18 months.
‘I think it’s a reflection of conditions,’ said Root. ‘Being fearless means not having that tentative mentality of being trapped on the crease or caught in two minds. It’s having confidence to play the ball in front of you, not having baggage from what has happened before, not overthinking the pitch and trying to see things as they are.
‘It is all still there for us. We’ve got all the ingredients, all the pieces and all the skills to exploit and succeed in these conditions. It’s important we harness that and have it in the front of our minds. We need to be braver and play with a bit more freedom.
‘That doesn’t mean going out there and trying to slog it or be ultra-aggressive. We play our game a certain way but we must not be scared of conditions. We must embrace them, however they turn out in this game.’
Ben Stokes takes part in a bowling drill at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad,
Those conditions — the grass evident on the pitch onTuesday seems certain to disappear before Thursday — are likely to mean a return for second spinner Dom Bess. He was jettisoned after bowling a number of full tosses at the end of the first Test.
‘If the pitch looks anything like the last one I think Dom will be licking his lips at the opportunity,’ said Root. ‘He is certainly in contention for selection and he is a very skilful young bowler who will be desperate to make his mark if he gets the chance.’
No temptation, then, for the captain to turn his arm over again after his extraordinary spell of five for eight in little more than six overs last week?
‘Dom will see how someone like me had an impact and will be very excited if conditions are the same,’ said Root. ‘There is no comparison between him and me. He is a far more talented bowler and will definitely be above me in the pecking order if he’s in the side.’
Certainly, there will be no repeat of the four-seamer policy that turned out so horribly wrong with the pink SG ball under lights at the world’s biggest cricket ground.
‘We got that wrong,’ admitted Root. ‘We read the pitch wrong in terms of the team we selected. We looked at conditions and how the ball behaved in the last pink ball Test in India. We didn’t expect it to spin so much.’
That means, sickness in the camp permitting, Bess will probably come in for Stuart Broad, with England retaining faith in the same top seven and simply having to decide between Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone for the final bowling place.
England will certainly expect Ashwin and Patel, with 33 wickets between them in the last two Tests, to pose just as big a threat this time. So it really would be Root’s greatest achievement in more than four years of captaincy if they can turn the tide now.
‘That’s something I will judge at the end of my career but it would certainly be up there,’ added Root. ‘When you experience different things and have to find different ways of managing them it can make you a better player, person and captain. This has been a challenging and eye-opening experience. But what an opportunity we have. I’d be extremely proud of everyone if we won now.’