Joe Root has been backed to remain as England’s Test captain by his employers as the inquest into their Ashes humiliation gets under way. The Guardian understands Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, met Root in Melbourne on Wednesday to discuss the reasons behind the failing tour but is said to be supportive of the 30-year-old staying on as captain despite a record nine defeats in 2021.
Significant caveats remain as to Root’s continuation for England’s Test tour to the Caribbean in March, not least his own desire to balance the strains of leadership with his batting after nearly five years in the job and the potential damage that could yet be inflicted during the final two Tests in Sydney and Hobart.
Even less certain is the future of Chris Silverwood, the head coach and selector, plus his backroom staff during a series England trail three-nil. Whether Root remains as captain or not, a number of roles may hinge on the feedback he passes on to Harrison and Ashley Giles, the director of men’s cricket who arrives in Sydney next week.
Root said he would wait until the end of the series before making any decision. Although neither he nor Silverwood have covered themselves in glory over strategy, the apparent support for the former in part reflects a lack of credible captaincy alternatives who could be viewed as likely first-team regulars over the next year.
Ben Stokes, Root’s vice-captain, is arguably the only other player who could claim to be in this position but there would be concerns about overburdening an all-rounder who has struggled for form during the series. It is also his first outing since taking a four-month break during the summer to address a finger injury and his mental health.
The batting unit would usually present candidates but has disintegrated over the past 12 months. After Root’s 1,708 Test runs in 2021, the next highest run-scorer with 530 is Rory Burns who, though a title-winning captain at Surrey, was recently dropped for a second time. To sum things up, extras sit in third place with 412 runs.
From the team that lost inside three days at the MCG, only the incumbent top three of Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan took up at an optional net session on Wednesday, along with the players who missed out on selection for the Third Test.
Chris Woakes, dropped after the first two, was asked whether the team would endorse Root’s continuation and replied: “Absolutely. It’s clear that the captaincy isn’t having an effect on his batting, which a lot of the time with captains can be the case.
“The fact that he’s scoring the runs he is is great for the team. It would be great if we could help him out with that and build some partnerships with him, and score a few more runs around him. But Joe is a great cricketer, he’s got a great cricket brain.
“I think his record as England captain [59 Tests, 27 wins, 24 defeats, eight draws] is pretty good, as far as I’m aware. I definitely feel like Joe will continue.”
Asked if Silverwood has the same backing, Woakes replied: “Who am I to talk about people’s futures other than my own, to be brutally honest? We have two more games and we want to show a lot of character, a lot of fight.
“We want to put some pride back into wearing that badge, which we certainly have tried in this series, but we need to try even harder and put that right. The group of players, the management and the staff we have out here have the backing of the players to hopefully put things right, over the next two games in particular.”
Internal support for Root should be couched by the fact that a number of Test careers are potentially on the line in the coming weeks, as well as uncertainty over Harrison’s own continuation at the ECB once the governing body’s £2.1m long-term incentive plan for its executive team matures at the end of the financial year.
There is also no permanent ECB chair at present, with Barry O’Brien only interim, and any new leadership team will likely have their own ideas about roles such as those held by Giles – the director of men’s cricket technically hires the head coach and captain – and the performance director, Mo Bobat, who oversees long-term strategy.
The latter was in charge of the Lions team that played a tour match against Australia A during the first Test in Brisbane yet selected only off-spinner Dom Bess from the unused players in the senior Test squad. Crawley, who made scores of 12 and five on his return to the Test team in Melbourne, might have benefited from playing.