England Test skipper Joe Root believes that the Gabba is no longer Australia’s stronghold after India defeated Tim Paine’s men earlier this year at the very same venue. India were without most of their key players but still managed to chase down 328 in the fourth innings to win the series 2-1.
"Look at that India team that won at the Gabba. They were a long way from their first-choice XI but they had no fear, they stood up to Australia and won crucial parts of that Test. It will give every player in our squad a huge amount of confidence and just plant a little bit of doubt in Australia’s mind having to go back there and play again for the first time against us, what with it being such a stronghold for them for such a long period of time. We now know that it’s not," Root told The Guardian.
The England captain is also delighted to have Ben Stokes back. The ace allrounder had taken a break from the game in July to focus on his mental wellbeing while also recovering from a finger injury he had suffered during the first leg of the IPL. Stokes was added to England’s squad after he made himself available for the big series, starting in Brisbane from December 8.
“I’d got an inkling. I’d had some good conversations with Ben over the period while he’s not been playing. It was just such a joy to hear him speak, you could almost hear his smile, if that makes sense, down the phone. You could tell he was so much happier within himself. Just the fact he feels he’s in a place where he’s ready to play cricket again is the most exciting thing.
“We made it very clear to Ben, it’s got to be right for you. You have to be in the right space to go and play, physically and mentally. One thing about Ben, he’s very honest, he won’t shirk any difficult conversations and he’s been true to that through the whole thing. We have been through a lot on and off the field. To see him now back in a place where he is able to enjoy his cricket again and feel more himself, that’s the best part of the whole thing. It’s just really exciting.”
The 30-year-old is currently in the form of his life. The right-handed batter has amassed 1455 runs in 12 Tests this year. He averages over 66 and has slammed six centuries, studded with four 180-plus scores. He is also the top-ranked batter in Test cricket and Root feels it all boils down to the hard work someone puts behind the scenes.
“There are very rare occasions where everything clicks and you don’t have to think at all, you don’t feel any pressure, you’ve not got technical thoughts floating around your mind that you’re trying to keep away. There are a handful of days where everything synchs in beautifully and you can completely focus on enjoying that day, that fluency of movement, scoring those runs. But a lot of the time it’s hard work. More often it’s passages of play you’ve just got to find a way to get through.”
Root averages 38 in Australia and is yet to score a Test hundred despite playing nine Tests Down Under. Root scores a lot of runs playing behind square on the off side in England but feels that strength becomes a weakness in Australia.
“It’s something I have been thinking about for a good while now, I look at where I’ve been undone in that part of the world. It’s about managing certain lengths and finding a way to get on top of the ball. Some of the areas I score very freely in England, through the offside with a straight bat, I’m not sure that’s the best way to play those conditions. I think it’s just managing your game, managing risk well for long periods of time, being clear where you’re going to score and put pressure back on to them.
"It’s the one series every player is desperate to perform in, to have a series like Cooky for example, or Chris Broad all those years ago. That volume of runs is what you dream of. The two previous tours I think if anything I probably got a bit too desperate. I think that extra bit of experience off the back of a fruitful year for me personally puts me in a better place.”
Talking about Australia's formidable bowling attack, Root said: "It’s a very good attack. They have a fantastic record at home. They’ve been together a long time. But with that, it also gives you a lot of data to work with, a lot of examples of what works for them and what doesn’t.”