England skipper Joe Root conceded that the absence of an all-rounder has thrown spanner in the team’s works, and wanted the lower-order batters to chip in with runs in order to make up for the same. Root further spoke highly of England’s squad depth, which he feels is currently incredibly strong.
It’s been seven years since England have lost a Test series at home and one of the reasons for their dominance has been the presence of Ben Stokes, who has lent the side the perfect balance to tackle any kind of conditions and opposition. However, come June 2 versus the Kiwis, things will be different for Joe Root, who will be without the talismanic all-rounder. A fractured finger sustained in the IPL has rendered Stokes unavailable for the New Zealand Tests and that means that England, for the first time in several years, also thanks to the absence of Sam Curran, will step into a Test match without an out-and-out specialist all-rounder.
Speaking ahead of the first Test at Lord’s, the England skipper admitted that it’ll be difficult to balance the side in the absence of an all-rounder, but hoped for the bowlers to chip in with handy runs to mitigate the issue.
“It’ll be a different challenge (to play without an all-rounder),” Root said on Tuesday.
“It certainly is something that has thrown a spanner in the works but like I said, there are a number of guys who can score runs down the order. One of the incentives for the side is to try and improve those lower-order runs. The bowlers have the added responsibility to try and capitalize when there’s an opportunity to score runs. If we’re going to grow as a team, if we’re going to become more consistent, we’ll have to add lower-order runs.”
Not just Stokes, England, in fact, will be without all their multi-format stars who featured in the IPL but such is the squad depth the Three Lions boast that there is no paucity of options. In the absence of the first-teamers, the likes of Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and James Bracey, all of whom have been tearing the County circuit apart, have been called-up and are expected to fill-in for the incumbents who are currently resting after a taxing winter.
Root insisted that both the Sri Lanka and India tours helped in the development of the reserve players and asserted that the Three Lions’ bench strength is impressive.
"It is starting to develop massively. This winter [in Sri Lanka and India] was massive in terms of developing spinners, in particular. A number of guys went out there and have come back with brilliant experiences and gone back into the county game and put in some brilliant performances. It is great to see that happen,” the England skipper said of the team’s squad depth.
"The amount of seamers in and around the squad now and the quality that is there is fantastic, while after a long time of that top-order position being hard to nail down, guys have grabbed that, and there are guys pushing hard for those spots, too.
"It does feel like there is good strength there and how you grow and become a better, more consistent team over time is by getting that nudge from guys just outside the XI putting pressure on and driving standards higher."
England will first take the Kiwis on in a two-Test series, but then will endure a tougher challenge in August with them set to lock horns with the number one team in the world, India, in a five-Test series.
Root admitted that facing New Zealand and India back-to-back is as tough a challenge as there can be, but claimed that the two-Test series starting Wednesday is a good opportunity to lay down a marker.
"You couldn't be asking for two better opponents right now - to take on the best is what sport is all about and every Test means a hell of a lot to our players and to me. These Tests are our full focus.
"We want to get going and set the tone for the summer. This [first Test] is a great opportunity to lay down a marker."
No English summer can pass without ‘Australia talks’ when there’s an Ashes winter looming, and Root admitted that it is hard not to think about the final frontier, which for England is winning Down Under. The England skipper claimed that planning for the Ashes is happening in the background, but stated that the best way the Three Lions can prepare for the Australian challenge is by winning all seven home games during the summer.
"There are going to be constant conversations about Australia throughout this whole summer, there is no getting away from that.
"We have said for a long time now that we are planning towards that series and as an English fan, an English player, it is such an iconic series.
"It is of utmost importance, absolutely. But the way we are best going to prepare ourselves is by performing well in these seven Tests, by winning seven Test matches against the best two sides in the world.”