Joe Root laments what Ashes could have been for England

BY AP • January 2, 2018

SYDNEY (AP) England captain Joe Root wishes his own form was better on the field, and that his teammates' behavior was better off it.

The net result is that England goes into the start of the fifth test at the Sydney Cricket Ground having relinquished the Ashes after Australia won the first three matches of the series.

Root, captaining England for the first time on an overseas tour, failed to lead the way with the bat, scoring 237 runs in the first four tests, including a drawn match last week at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The touring squad's behavior has also been a distraction for Root and coach Trevor Bayliss, who struggled to hide his frustration after the drunken actions of Jonny Bairstow and England A batsman Ben Duckett earlier on the tour.

Bairstow was involved in a head-butting incident at a Perth bar with Australian opener Cameron Bancroft, although both players downplayed the incident. Duckett poured a drink over the head of veteran fast bowler Jimmy Anderson and was suspended and fined.

Ben Stokes didn't even make the tour after a late-night incident in Bristol, England in September left him potentially facing criminal charges.

''I'd make sure no one is head-butting anyone, and people were more sensible off the field on the back of what happened in the summer,'' Root said Wednesday on the eve of the series finale.

''The way we've practiced and prepared, we've been excellent. It's just a shame there's been a few extra instances that could have been avoided. There's definitely stuff we'll have to take from this trip and make sure ... we don't make those mistakes again.''

Root, only 11 tests into his captaincy, said he hoped to return as captain in four years when the Ashes is contested again in Australia. And he hopes a win in the SCG test might build confidence for that 2021-22 tour.

England was swept 5-0 on the 2013-14 tour to Australia, but regained the Ashes at home in 2015 and had been more confident heading into this series.

''It's really important ... that we can get a win and build on that for four years' time,'' he said. ''It would mean a lot to me certainly to give a fairer account of how we've gone about this trip.''

Root points out Australia captain Steve Smith's 604 runs, including three centuries, in the four tests has given the hosts the upper hand.

''I'm disappointed ... you see (Smith's scores), and you want to be the one doing it,'' Root said. ''He's probably been the difference between the teams. Take his runs out of it, and we've been there or thereabouts to win. It's a little lesson to me on leading from the front.''

Leg-spinner Mason Crane will make his test debut for England as a replacement for injured paceman Chris Woakes, Root said Wednesday.

''On this surface he's going to be a really good option,'' Root said of the 20-year-old Crane. ''It looks like it should give a bit of turn throughout.''

Smith said that left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc will likely play in Sydney after missing the Melbourne test with a right heel injury. The Australian captain said he wouldn't confirm his starting XI until the toss on Thursday.

''Starcy pulled up pretty well this morning,'' Smith said. ''He says he's ready to go.''

Smith didn't agree with Root's assessment on the state of the pitch, all but ruling out Ashton Agar as a second spinner to complement Nathan Lyon.

''The wicket's got a fair bit of grass and looks to be a pretty good wicket, so I'd say we'll probably opt for just the one spinner,'' Smith said.

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