News that Mark Wood has been ruled out of the third Test against India represents the latest setback for England but their captain, Joe Root, is trying to remain upbeat in the knowledge that he continues to live out a boyhood dream.
Root is in the form of his life but returns to his home ground of Headingley this week with his side beginning to crumble around him. England are 1-0 down against Virat Kohli’s tourists after the galling final-day defeat at Lord’s and, as well as a batting lineup otherwise bereft of form, the injuries are starting to mount.
Wood was the last of Root’s 90mph fast bowlers standing after both Olly Stone and Jofra Archer were ruled out for the rest of the year with respective back and elbow issues, but is now in the treatment room himself. It follows a dive to prevent a boundary on the fourth evening of the 151-run defeat, and jarring his shoulder in the process.
With Stuart Broad out until the winter Ashes tour after tearing a calf muscle, Ben Stokes taking an indefinite break to prioritise his mental health and Chris Woakes still on the comeback trail from a bruised heel, Root could be forgiven for thinking he has done something to upset the oft-invoked cricketing gods.
That said, the 30-year-old has personally risen to No 2 in the Test batting ranks after a stellar unbeaten 180 last week made it five centuries in 2021. Looking more broadly, he appears to be keeping the sunny disposition that has been a hallmark of his career.
Root said: “I’m playing for England and I’m playing Test cricket. It’s quite easy to stay positive in that respect, I’m living my boyhood dream. I’m constantly trying to remind myself of that as well, when we are having the odd tough day or things aren’t always going our way. When I was 10 years old I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.
“Living that boyhood dream is one way you can keep motivating yourself to front up to the next challenge and the next day. I’m a cricket tragic at heart. I love the game, I love batting. Every opportunity to do that I’ll try and take.”
It remains to be seen who replaces Wood in the England XI as they look to level the five-Test series, with the uncapped Saqib Mahmood and Craig Overton the spare seamers in the squad. Both could play if Sam Curran, fresh from a king pair at Lord’s but having also claimed the wicket of Kohli, makes way.
While Overton is a tall seamer in the same mould as Ollie Robinson, Mahmood would offer a point of difference given the slingy pace and reverse swing the 24-year-old generates. This was certainly on show when Stokes led a second-string England side to a 3-0 victory against Pakistan during this summer’s one-day internationals, with the Lancastrian named man of the series after claiming nine wickets.
Root said: “I feel like Saqib couldn’t be in a better place to potentially play Test cricket. You look at how he has progressed over the past couple of years across all the formats. The opportunities he has taken this year when he has been given them has been exceptional. He’s been a standout bowler.
“He came out the back of that one-day series as probably the most experienced player and the go-to seamer that Ben went to under pressure. It just shows how far he has come and it is great to see that strength in depth and him developing as he has done over a long period of time.”
England were already looking at a rejigged lineup after dropping Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley from the squad. Haseeb Hameed will open ahead of Dawid Malan at No 3 with the head coach, Chris Silverwood, hoping the latter’s nous can overcome the overall lack of first-class cricket that has left reinforcements thin on the ground.
Malan was dropped in 2018 after averaging 27 from 15 Tests but the left-hander, similarly returning to his home ground, boasts a century in Perth during the 2017-18 Ashes tour and remains the No 1-ranked batsman in international Twenty20 cricket.
“I think Dawid will offer us a lot of experience in that top three. He has played a huge amount of international cricket now,” said Root. “He is a fine player who has had to deal with a number of different pressures and he has come through swimmingly.”
Root admitted he will have to deal with pressure situations better himself after Jasprit Bumrah’s and Mohammed Shami’s unbroken ninth-wicket stand of 89 on the final morning changed the destiny of the Lord’s Test. England became embroiled in a heated verbal battle with their opponents, coming off second best when they were eventually bowled out for 120 with 49 balls of the match remaining.
Root said: “When you’re out there in the middle and it does get a bit heated, it doesn’t matter where you are – home or away – it’s a passage of play you have manage well and they managed it better than us on that occasion.
“We have got to be genuine to ourselves, genuine to how we are as individuals and how we are collectively and be as good as we can be in the way we go about things. Virat and his team will play the way they play.”