Joe Root ready for return to top order for first Ashes Test

Joe Root is planning a return to the top order for the first Ashes Test against Australia which begins on Thursday.

The England captain has impressed with the bat since England slumped to a 4-0 series loss against Steve Smith’s side Down Under in 2017-18, recording knocks of 125 against India and 124 in Sri Lanka.

Root has averaged 48 in the 35 innings he has played at number four, but PA understands he informed team management of his preference to bat at first wicket down following last week’s victory over Ireland.

Jason Roy and Rory Burns – who have only played eight Tests between them are likely to open the batting, with 81 Test veteran Root coming in at three.

The move will see Joe Denly moved down to four.

Head coach Trevor Bayliss has long argued the team’s best batsman – which is Root by a considerable margin – should bat in the top three but did not need to persuade the skipper on this occasion.

England’s Joe Root
England’s Joe Root has impressed at number four (Richard Sellers/PA)

Root has made it clear he feels happier batting at four when he captains the side but the head of the innings has simply not functioned since he relinquished the responsibility last August.

Since Root dropped a place in the order nine Tests ago several of options have been tried – including Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Denly – but none have settled the debate and now Root is ready to step back up to a position from which he scored a Test-best 254 against Pakistan in 2016.

Root will have a familiar face as his vice-captain during the Ashes, with all-rounder Stokes restored to the position.

The 28-year-old was stripped of responsibility following a late-night brawl in Bristol but has impressed with the maturity he has shown around the camp since being cleared on a charge of affray.

His off-field influence has been matched by inspirational efforts, including a man-of-the-match performance during the triumphant World Cup final, on the pitch.

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes will be vice captain (Nick Potts/PA)

Speaking on a weekend visit to his old club, Cockermouth CC in Cumbria, Stokes said: “I love having that responsibility and it is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing. I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool.

“I am very good friends with Joe as well off the field, and as much as I can do to help him through his career, not just as a captain but as a player as well, I am really looking forward to that challenge.

“I think it would have been just as exciting anyway, playing in an Ashes series is always special and they don’t come around that often but being named vice-captain again was very good words to hear when I got the call.”

Stokes headed back north after being rested for the Ireland Test at Lord’s, a chance to come down from the physical and emotional highs of his man-of-the-match performance at the same ground in the World Cup final.

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That is the last spell of recuperation he can expect this summer, with five high-intensity Tests against Australia crammed into little more than six weeks.

Stokes missed the last series against the old enemy, stood down by the England and Wales Cricket Board following events in Bristol, and is more than happy to focus on the next challenge.

“Everything is sort of on the Ashes now. We have had that time to let everything sink in and reflect on that amazing seven weeks we have had in the World Cup, but the World Cup was half of the journey that we wanted to achieve this summer and the other half is winning the Ashes.”

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