Australia is keeping ‘brilliant’ Joe Root quite a big job, Justin Langer admits

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Modified Dec 24, 2021 1:02 AM IST

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Australia is working overtime to keep “brilliant” England captain Joe Root quiet in the Ashes, head coach Justin Langer has revealed. Root has enjoyed a career-best year with the bat, reeling off 1,630 runs at an average of 62.69 including six centuries. But after the first two Tests Down Under, and two unconverted fifties, he is still awaiting his first hundred on Australian soil. Langer admitted Root loomed large over his side’s planning meetings ahead of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, given his status as the heartbeat of the batting order.

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“He is a brilliant player, no doubt about that, and we spend a lot of our time working out how to get on top of Joe,” he said. “That’s not only because he’s such a world-class player, but he’s also the captain of the opposition. It’s always been a philosophy in the Australian cricket team to put as much pressure on the opposition captain as possible. “Joe Root is tough though, we say he hasn’t necessarily got a really big 100 yet, but he’s been an excellent player in this series already so we’ll continue to do our homework on him and make sure, or hope, that we can keep having good effects with him.”

Langer also chose to throw his support behind opener Marcus Harris, who is the only Australian player who has yet to chip into a date. With just 38 runs in four innings he is coming under pressure from the experienced Usman Khawaja, but already knows he will be taking the field at the MCG on Boxing Day. “He’ll play in the Test, no worries about that,” said Langer. “This is his home ground. He’s played a lot at the MCG. He hasn’t made the runs he’d like to so far, but he dominates domestic cricket. “We like to back our players in where we can.

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He showed glimpses in Test cricket so far, and we’re hopeful that he’ll keep kicking on and keep getting better. It’s a tough, tough gig Test cricket. “But we’re really confident. Marcus has got what it takes to be a successful Australian opening batsman. What we see in the nets, what we see in domestic cricket all adds up to watch what is potentially a very good Test career. So let’s hope he starts that off again on Boxing Day.” Australia will be assessing their pace bowlers in the build-up to the match, with Mitchell Starc carrying a rib injury and Josh Hazlewood currently recovering from a side strain.

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Captain Pat Cummins will return after an enforced period of isolation caused him to miss the Adelaide Test, but Scott Boland has been called up as cover. Dawid Malan believes England can reignite its Ashes campaign by tapping into the mindset that has driven their success in white-ball cricket. England has been outclassed by Australia in each of the first two Tests, meaning their Boxing Day assignment in front of 70,000 at Melbourne’s MCG is a make-or-break match. The portents are not good, with 11 defeats and one draw in their last 12 Tests on Australia soil – a sorry sequence spanning eight years and three tours.

Yet there is no fear factor where limited-overs cricket is concerned. When the sides met in the T20 World Cup just a few weeks before the Ashes, England romped home by eight wickets with 50 balls unused as Jos Buttler clubbed a century against a familiar-looking bowling attack comprising Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and Mitchell Starc. The fearlessly aggressive methods that have transformed England into a gold standard limited-overs operation in cricket under Eoin Morgan – they are world champions in ODIs and world No 1 in T20s – can hardly be transported into the five-day format, but Malan feels there are useful lessons about how to confront their rivals.