Joe Root wants to lead England on the next Ashes tour and has said planning for that trip starts with the fifth Test against Australia on Thursday.
Jason Roy’s hopes of a Test career took a big hit when Root announced he had been left out of the side for the fifth Test on his home ground at the Oval to make way for an extra all-rounder because Ben Stokes is unfit to bowl due to a shoulder injury.
Sam Curran will play his first Test of the series and Chris Woakes replaces Craig Overton, who is dropped after only one Test.
Stokes will play as a specialist batsman at No 4 with Jonny Bairstow moving up to five and Jos Buttler at six.
Both Buttler and Bairstow are on trial at the Oval with England 2-1 down in the series and Root says players are playing for their futures. Bairstow averages just 28 at no 5 and has again spent the summer being moved up and down the order. He will keep wicket as well and has said in the past he prefers batting at seven, rather than five, when he is filling two roles in the team.
But he will have put to one side any sense of injustice and score runs otherwise he too could find himself out of the Test side when the squad for New Zealand tour is announced at the end of the month.
Buttler is averaging 22 this year and has not scored a fifty in the Ashes series. He is being protected by batting below Bairstow but England can only afford a luxury batsman lower down the order when those higher up are in form and scoring runs. He too needs to deliver on his talent in Test cricket after only one century in 35 matches.
“Jason has had an opportunity to come in and play Test cricket and get a feel for it and it has not gone quite how he would have liked. But I’m sure he will go away and work extremely hard and come again. That is what you expect of guys when they get left out and I”m sure he will have that attitude and want to try and prove a point and get himself back into the side,” said Root. “When you leave someone out you obviously have those conversations and he is very aware of where he is at and what he needs to do to get himself in the best place to perform in Test cricket.”
Root is determined to continue as captain and lead England on the next Ashes tour in two years’ time. With no other candidates on the horizon at the moment he will have time to recover from this summer’s Ashes defeat.
With Ashley Giles, the director of cricket, vowing that Test cricket is once again England’s number one priority Root should have the backing from above to carry the team forward. The first task is to identify the core group of players he wants to build his team around which might involve dropping one of his long term friends like Buttler.
Stokes, Stuart Broad (if he stays fit), Jofra Archer and Rory Burns look to be part of that group. Buttler and Bairstow will remain too if they can rediscover some consistency. But there will also be pressure to bring back Ben Foakes as the best keeper in the country and give an opportunity to players like Curran, Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley and Olly Stone.
The squad for the New Zealand tour will be announced after the end of the championship season and there is plenty to play for in the remaining rounds with places in the squad available.
“I think in terms of personnel things might change as they have done for a while but we have to focus on the core group of players that can lead this team forward, both home and away, then build from that. Build towards winning in Australia and use the next two years to focus on putting in a winning tour Down Under, that's a real incentive for everyone, to be part of something special down there,” said Root.
England lost 4-0 in Australia two years ago and 5-0 in 2013-14. They are long way from competing with Australia in their home conditions and Root will have to improve as a captain and start scoring runs in the job consistently if he is going to still be in charge for the next Ashes tour.
“In terms of my own captaincy I know the direction I want to take this team moving forward and it is about starting that now and not after this series. It is important we win this game and have a really strong winter and move forward as a group,” he said.