England’s challenge in 2021 is to peak for Australia ‘pinnacle’, says Joe Root


Joe Root says that the challenge of taking on New Zealand, the world’s No.1-ranked Test team, followed by five home Tests against India and an away Ashes campaign, makes 2021 the sort of year that “you play the game for”.

However, Root also admitted that England’s new-look selection panel – now led by the head coach Chris Silverwood – faces a tricky balancing act to ensure the entire squad is fit and firing ahead of the Australia tour, which he conceded was the year’s “pinnacle”.

The squad for England’s first Test of the summer, against New Zealand at Lord’s, is expected to be announced on Tuesday, and may provide an opportunity for some of England’s uncapped squad members – notably Gloucestershire’s James Bracey and Sussex’s Ollie Robinson – to test their mettle on the big stage after long periods on the sidelines during the team’s recent bio-secure campaigns.

However, Root admitted the importance of striking the right balance between opportunities for fringe candidates and sufficient game-time for the first-choice players, especially given the continued uncertainty about how long the Covid-safe environments will have to be kept in place.

“It’s very difficult at the minute, the circumstances make it very tricky,” Root told Sky Sports during Yorkshire’s ongoing County Championship clash with Glamorgan in Cardiff. “You’ve got to factor in so many different things and the welfare of the players is obviously paramount.

“But this is what you play for, years like this one. You want to pit yourself against the best, you want to be successful against the best, and this is the opportunity to do it.”

The New Zealand series will be an early test of the ECB’s new selection arrangements. Ed Smith’s removal as national selector last month means that Silverwood holds an unprecedented influence within the England camp, but Root believes his new role will add clarity to the process, given the bond that already exists between captain and coach.

“More than anything, it just means that that relationship between the two of us has to be as strong as ever,” he said. “We get on very well and we’ve got a good understanding of each other. We know what we want, and so hopefully, that process becomes a little bit easier.

“It’s always a tricky balance,” he said of the prospect of blooding some new faces against New Zealand. “What you’re trying to do is create that environment where you’ve got a strong squad of players that have been together for a good period of time, but no-one going in cold.

“You can’t plan everything perfectly, especially at the minute with Covid. There might be natural opportunities where things arise, there might not be, but the most important thing is that we remain very open-minded about how we want to move going forward.

“We’ve got some really important cricket coming up. And we’ve got to prioritise that. So when we sit down, we’ll factor in everything as best we can, and make sure that we’ve got a real clear idea of how we want to go, how we want the year to look, and how we’re going to peak for that tour of Australia.”

England overtook Australia as the No.3-ranked Test team this week, behind New Zealand and India, who face off in next month’s World Test Championship final at the Ageas Bowl, and after impressing for the first half of their recent tour of Sri Lanka and India, Root is confident their Test plans are on track.