Joe Root restated the quality of his credentials to return to England’s middle order today. His composed, unfussy innings of 75 almost certainly means that he will occupy the number six position throughout the Ashes series and perhaps beyond.
It was not the berth for which he was destined when the tourists arrived three weeks ago. Then he was firmly cast as Alastair Cook’s opening partner well into the future.
Cook and Root had been brought together at the start of last summer’s Ashes in England and were a work in progress. But circumstances and the continuing dearth of runs from the occupants of the pivotal spot in the order have provoked a swift re-think of strategy.
Although they looked occasionally ragged, England gradually worked their way into a commanding position on the third day of the final warm-up match before the Test series. The tourists managed a first innings total of 418, a lead of 114 with four of the top six having made fifties.
By the close, the Cricket Australia XI reached 153 for 4 after their initial assault was curbed and the tourists made inroads.
Root was watchful and diligent as England attempted to build on their first innings. He was able to fulfil part of the brief by dealing proficiently with the second new ball, a task for which his experience as an opener fits him.
The innings, his second successive half century, lasted 106 balls and contained nine fours until he was eighth out, bowled in essaying a rather inelegant pull.
Root and his fellow Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, took their overnight sixth wicket partnership to 106 but England’s innings ended early in the afternoon following several brief rain delays. Bairstow, who will play in the opening Test next Thursday if wicketkeeper Matt Prior fails to recover from a calf injury was rarely as fluent as his colleague in scoring 48.
England’s bowlers were bludgeoned at the start of the reply. Aaron Finch, their nemesis in a T20 match at Southampton last season when he scored 156 from 63 balls, was in only slightly less rampant form.
He punished some errant short stuff from Boyd Rankin and Steve Finn but perished for 59 from 60 balls in trying to clobber Graeme Swann for a second successive six and succeeding only in spiralling a top edge to point.
But although both Rankin and Finn improved, Finch ensured that the debate of who should be England’s third seamer remains inconclusive.