Thursday 23 January 2020

Root admits England need to find best form before the next crisis

England's captain Joe Root yesterday during the first test against South Africa at Centurion Park, Pretoria. Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP
England's captain Joe Root yesterday during the first test against South Africa at Centurion Park, Pretoria. Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP

Rory Dollard

Joe Root admits England can no longer afford to play their best cricket with their backs against the wall after South Africa killed hopes of another outrageous fightback from his side.

England arrived in Centurion yesterday needing to scale a mammoth target of 376 but were rounded up for 268 as their latest attempt to upset mountainous odds came undone at the hands of a relentless Proteas attack.

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There would be no third act to Ben Stokes' magical 2019, with the elation of his knocks at the World Cup final and the Ashes Test at Headingley replaced by a messy dismissal for just 14 and a chastening 107-run defeat.

England have a reputation for fighting hardest when cornered - they won a dead rubber against the West Indies in St Lucia in February, beat Ireland after being bowled out for 85 in July and then penned their record run chase against Australia in Leeds - but Root wants more.

The tourists allowed South Africa to make 284 despite tumbling to 111 for five after Root won the toss and then lost seven first-innings wickets for 39 to make just 181 in reply.

Frustrating

"I think the thing that's frustrating me is that, when we find ourselves behind in the game, we show a lot of character, fight and determination and we find ways of getting ourselves back into things," Root said.

"In terms of character over the last two days, I can't fault anyone. We turned up today with real belief we could win the Test. Even at lunch me and Ben looked at the scenario and it was the same equation as Leeds not so long ago. But we need to do that at the start, get ahead of it."

Root did not use the bug which was spread through the camp as a reason for defeat, though nor did he downplay the effect it has had on preparations. He fell ill and was forced into quarantine as the game drifted further away on day three, with another nine squad members and four backroom staff suffering symptoms since arriving in Johannesburg a fortnight ago.

Three were ruled out of the Test and others went in light on workload.

Root hopes for an end to the crisis before this week's second Test in Cape Town. "We're not going to hide behind that as an excuse, but 14 of our squad have been taken ill," he said.

England have asked Somerset pair Craig Overton and Dom Bess to stay on for the trip to Newlands, with both men initially called up as cover, and Bess, in particular, has a real chance of adding to his two caps.

Another potential selection debate involves decorated seam pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with some pundits suggesting they should no longer play together despite sharing more than 1,000 Test wickets.

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