Joe Root, England’s defeated Test captain, said that the selection of James Anderson had been a group decision, after his absence from the attack due to injury contributed significantly to England’s 251-run loss against Australia in the opening Test of the Ashes at Edgbaston.
Despite coming through a number of fitness tests in the lead-up to the game, Anderson lasted just four overs on the first morning before reporting tightness in his right calf, the same muscle that he had torn while bowling for Lancashire in a Championship fixture in early July.
In his absence, Australia were able to recover from 122 for 8 on the first day to set England an eventual fourth-innings target of 398, one that they never came close to challenging as they were rolled aside for 146 on the final day.
“It does hurt, we’re bitterly disappointed,” Root said during the post-match presentations at Edgbaston. “I thought we played some really good cricket throughout the majority of the Test match. But credit to Australia for how they got back in it.”
The major thorn in England’s side was the indomitable Steven Smith, whose twin innings of 144 and 142 added up to more than the eventual margin of victory. However, his second-innings dismissal, caught snicking a rare swinging ball from Chris Woakes, was an indication of what might have been had Anderson’s skill with the Dukes ball been available throughout the match.
“It was two brilliant innings, we’ll have to keep working hard on getting him out,” said Root. “But it was obviously going to be hard as well, having lost Jimmy pretty early on, in terms of balancing the attack.
“But these things happen in cricket and we’ve got to take it on the chin and move forward, and come back really hard at Lord’s.”
However, Anderson is sure to be missing from the attack at Lord’s in just over a week’s time – even though Root demurred when asked the direct question, saying they would have to wait for the scans on his calf to be properly analysed. And as a consequence, the rationale of his selection for this game, having missed the one-off match against Ireland, is bound to come under scrutiny.
“It was a group decision in terms of the selection of him,” said Root. “He passed all the fitness tests. and it’s just one of those freak things that can happen in in cricket. It’s disappointing, but we’ve got to try and respond to that and make sure that we get things exactly how we want them at Lord’s.”
Jofra Archer, who appeared as a substitute fielder during the Edgbaston Test, is an obvious name in the frame to replace Anderson and make his Test debut, having had a chance to rest the side strain that hampered him during the World Cup. But Root said that that decision, too, would have to wait until he had proven his red-ball fitness with a second XI outing for Sussex against Gloucestershire this week.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he shapes up as well,” said Root. “He’s going away tomorrow to get some cricket in, get some overs in. We don’t have to make any shotgun decisions in terms of selection. We got plenty of time before the next game. It’s really important that we’re very clear on how we want to go about it.”
On England’s final-day meltdown, in which they lost all ten wickets inside two sessions as Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon shared the spoils, Root said that he would not be over-analysing the final performance.
“I think we were bowled out today, to be brutally honest. It was high-class bowling, we were made to work very hard for our wickets. And I think we got to look further back into the Test match for where we could have been slightly better.”
Root also insisted that the euphoria of England’s World Cup win was not a factor in England’s lacklustre start to the Ashes.
“I think that’s a bit of an excuse to be honest. We played some good stuff throughout the game, we just didn’t do it for long enough and we didn’t take our chance at the start, when we had them in that position.”
Nevertheless, a week off until the Lord’s Test was welcome, he added.
“It gives us time to get away, regroup, and make sure that we’re really clear on how we want to approach that Test match. And make sure that this [result] doesn’t have a hangover effect going into the next game.”