JOE Root played arguably his best innings yet to help push the Adelaide Test into a final day, but insisted it would only rank highly for him if England managed to hang on for a draw overnight.
That seemed unlikely by stumps on day four of the second Ashes Test, even after the young Yorkshireman had contributed 87 and shared a stand of 111 with Kevin Pietersen (53) in England’s 247 for six.
Root met the might of Mitchell Johnson with a straight bat –and a habitual cheery smile when Australia’s “demon bowler” turned verbal – in a near four-and-a-half-hour stay.
But, despite his individual efforts, the likeliest outcome remained a second defeat for England, leaving them 2-0 down heading to Perth for the third Test and, if that turned out to be the case, Root would have taken no pleasure from his personal display.
When it was put to him his innings could have been his most rewarding performance to date, he replied: “Ask me if we get a result at the end of the game.
“To me, if we’re losing Test matches – regardless of your scores – you’re not going to pride yourself on your performance.”
While England only had four wickets to try to see out 90 more overs in theoretical pursuit of what would have been a world-record 531 for a series-levelling victory, Root was not for giving up hope.
Matt Prior and Stuart Broad took up the fight last night, having reached the close on day four unbeaten, after several scrapes each against Johnson and Ryan Harris with the second new ball.
Root said: “I thought Matty and Stuart were exceptional, they showed a lot of fight. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of good things to take from today [Saturday night] and I hope we can do that for the rest of he series.”
Root will take encouragement from day four in Adelaide, whatever the eventual outcome – because he believes England have shown what they are really made of.
He said: “Certainly, we had a scrap on. We knew we had to front up today, and try to put in a performance and show we were up for a fight.
“We knew we had to make sure everyone watching and playing knew we were in a battle and weren’t going to lie down, we were going to show a bit of courage.
Root was unfazed by the altercations Johnson tried to instigate. He added: “I didn’t feel there was anything [wrong] going on out there.
“You want to play hard cricket, and it’s Ashes cricket – you’d expect that. You’d be disappointed if there wasn’t a bit of rivalry, and what have you – I think it makes entertaining cricket to watch. It’s certainly good to be involved in that in the middle. You know you’re in a battle.”
Johnson’s fellow seamer Peter Siddle made light of a couple of scenes – particularly involving Broad near the day four close – which caught the eye.
He said: “It was a tough day for the boys out there, and Mitch was trying to get the job done.
“There wasn’t much to it.”
Root’s favoured response is to grin and, apparently, say little back.
“You’ve got to find your own way of doing it,” said the Yorkshireman.
“They were just trying to get under my skin, and hoping they could find a way to get me out.
“I’d expect that to happen. I’d expect any team to do that.
“It’s good confrontation. I like to get in a battle with the opposition. It’s good, hard cricket – what the Ashes is all about.”
Root’s innings made a nonsense of those suggesting he should drop back down from No 3, in favour of Ian Bell, after just one attempt there.
There was encouragement, too, at last for wicketkeeper/batsman Prior, whose unbeaten 31 was a step back in the right direction after a miserable run of form.
Root said: “Matt’s a class act, and I know there’s a score just round the corner for him – whether it be this game, Perth, Melbourne, wherever.”