Root headed to Perth on Thursday knowing he was on the brink of losing his first Ashes series as skipper. England are 2-0 down with three to play and have lost their last seven Tests at the WACA. Though Root insists his team remain competitive in the series, their chances of retaining the urn are, at best, remote.
Swann won the Ashes three times — once, in 2013, as Root’s team-mate, when the latter was a newcomer in the England side. Swann remains a close observer and feels leadership is detracting from Root’s batting.
Root scored 67 in the second innings at Adelaide, where England were beaten by 120 runs. It was his second half-century of the series, but he has 34 fifties in Tests and only 13 centuries — a conversion rate that is significantly inferior to that of Australia captain Steve Smith, who has 21 of each.
Root admitted that his failure to turn promising starts into big scores has been worrying him for some time and Swann said: “It’s a monkey on his back and it will continue to grow with so many fifties not being hundreds.
“I’m still convinced it’s because he’s had the captaincy put on him. I wish they hadn’t. I wish he didn’t have the burden and could just be our best-ever batsman but that decision has been made and this tour will be tough on him because that pressure will build and build.”
Following defeat in Adelaide, Root rejected the idea that this tour would go the same way of his first Ashes campaign in Australia four years ago, which ended in a 5-0 whitewash for the home side.
Root argues that these two sides are more closely matched than in 2013-14, when Mitchell Johnson’s ferocious fast bowling brought him 37 wickets and crushed England’s spirit.
Yet despite his optimism, Root’s record in Australia is worrying: seven Test matches, seven defeats — though only two of those have been as captain — and no centuries. He remains relatively new to the post and his reputation would be relatively unscathed if England are thrashed here, but he is not getting enough help from his team-mates.
To win in Australia, teams need their best batsmen in form. When England won here in 2010-11, they managed to run up nine centuries. In 2013-14, there was only one — Ben Stokes at Perth — and no England player has reached the landmark yet in this series, with James Vince’s 83 in the first Test at Brisbane the high watermark.
Swann told ESPNcricinfo: “The top six just aren’t churning out the scores you need to win Test matches. Vince got a brilliant 80 in Brisbane but, since then, hasn’t performed. Mark Stoneman is looking good but not converting the starts and Alastair Cook and Root just aren’t scoring hundreds. The scoreboard has to read 400-450 if you want to win here.”
Good view of the WACA floodlights driving into Perth. One of my favourite sights in cricket.— Tom Collomosse (@TomCStandard) December 7, 2017
Mark Wood, who missed the start of the tour with a heel injury, is in the 12 for a warm-up game in Perth, along with Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, Mason Crane and Jake Ball. Moeen Ali will captain the side.