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'We'll let you know when we're ready': Root rejects mind games as Poms look to end 35-year Gabba hoodoo

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Expert
6th December, 2021
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Joe Root has denied playing mind games in the lead-up to the first Test at the Gabba by refusing to name his side before game day as England look to break a 35-year hoodoo in Brisbane.

Australia’s new skipper Pat Cummins revealed his XI on Sunday but Root on Monday did not want to divulge his team or whether it had even been finalised when he addressed the media.

Root was careful to not add any fuel to the fire in the lead-up to the Ashes series and also said he would not even consider the possibility of what he would do if he won the toss until thoroughly inspecting the wicket on Wednesday morning.

“We’re not going into specifics as yet. We’re close to but I don’t feel comfortable revealing anything at this stage. I’m not into mind games, I’m not in a position right now to name my team,” he said.

“Fair play that they’ve named their XI but it doesn’t really concern me or change anything from our perspective. We will go about our business how we want to and we will let you know when we’re ready.”

The last time England tasted victory at the Gabba was when Mike Gatting’s team successfully retained the Ashes in 1986-87 with legendary all-rounder Ian Botham destroying the Australian bowlers in Brisbane with a powerful 138.

His memorable innings included 22 runs bludgeoned from one Merv Hughes over which took Botham into triple figures.

Ian Botham plays a hook shot

Ian Botham. (Photo by Adrian Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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Root will have his own star all-rounder returning to the Test arena this week and while he’s certain Ben Stokes will succeed, he did not want to put any added pressure on the 30-year-old power hitter.

“It’s a great opportunity. I look at this group of players and not that long ago a lot of them were on that South African tour where we came off the back off a very disappointing first Test match in Pretoria, went to Cape Town where we’d not won a Test match for a long period of time and off the back of that, ended up winning that series for that performance there.

“We feel like we’ve been able to do it elsewhere around in the world and it’s a great opportunity for us to come and do it here.

“Obviously the conditions are starkly different to what we get at home and this stadium in particular with the extra bit of bounce but we’ve prepared as best we can to counter for that and we’ll use the next couple of days to make sure we’re ready for that as well.

“As well as the emotions that surround the first morning of the Test match here in Australia, if we manage that well we should give a really good account of ourselves and start well in this series.

“More than anything it will be good to see Ben back involved in the frame of things and see him come in to it with the limited game time that he’s had and to look as good as he did as well.

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“I always know that when he gets into that game field he will want to put his mark on it and his stamp on it. Yes, there will be an element of managing expectations but I trust his experience and our whole bowling group that collectively we can work together to take those wickets.

“I’m sure Ben will have a big say in that.”

While much has been made of England’s poor preparation at a rain-swept Brisbane over the past two weeks without any first-class fixtures, the Australians also enter the series with a disrupted lead-up campaign.

Many of the team were involved with the victorious Twenty20 World Cup squad in the UAE, including Cummins and his fellow pace aces, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

When asked whether the pace trio’s lack of red-ball form in recent times could benefit the tourists, Root said he thought the quicks had the experience to still be at their best despite a less-than-perfect lead into the series.

The skipper said he wanted to emulate the most recent successful England touring side of 2010-11 by occupying the crease.

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He said if their batters can spend lengthy stints in the middle and post respectable totals, he was confident his bowling attack could finish the job.

Veteran seamers Stuart Broad and James Anderson are likely to be rotated throughout the team during the series with Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes also in contention for a spot at the Gabba.

The inclusion of Stokes means there will be a place for left-arm spinner Jack Leach – his unlikely batting ally at the Headingley miracle of 2019.

England look likely to pair Zak Crawley with Rory Burns at opener with Dawid Malan at first drop with the battle between Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope for the No.6 berth the other major selection decision.

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