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Joe Root might need to set new record to make sure England don't

Only a victory in Melbourne will keep the Ashes alive heading into the new year

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
There is a chance that 2021 finishes as a record-breaking year for Joe Root, and record-equalling for England, but for significantly different reasons.
Root currently sits fourth in the list for most runs scored by a batter in a calendar year, and needs 159 to go ahead of Mohammad Yousuf's golden 2006 mark. His team, meanwhile, is one defeat away from equalling the record for most Test losses in a calendar year, which is currently at nine, registered by Bangladesh in 2003.
The two records are closely linked. If Root achieves his in a single innings - ideally the first time England bat in the match - it will give them a chance of avoiding the second. Having not passed 300 yet in the series, where they trail 2-0 after two games, they have to put up a total that will pressure Australia, even if the MCG pitch is on the livelier side, more than seen of late.
"It's been very enjoyable personally, in terms of batting, spending time out there making some big scores, but nothing compares to winning," Root said of personal success amid a struggling team. "If I perform well in the last three Tests here, it gives us a good chance of getting the scores on the board to win games."
Root has twice fallen after passing 50 in this series, nicking Cameron Green on both occasions, with England having produced just four half-centuries - the other two coming from Dawid Malan. Root carries a huge burden in this fragile batting order and desperately needs others around him to lift their games. There are likely to be changes with Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow in the mix with Root imploring his fellow batters to keep it simple.
"I like to give our bowlers, especially the senior ones, that responsibility - they have more than 300 Tests between them and over 1000 wickets, and they know what they are doing. It's working alongside them, it's not a dictatorship"
Joe Root
"It's asking all of our batters, whoever it is that does play, to do basic things very well. Give yourself an opportunity to go and make big runs and build big partnerships," he said. "I bang on about that all the time but it's the fundamentals of batting: be willing to concentrate for long periods of time, being able to wear bowlers down, take themselves deep into an innings and make those big scores that put you ahead of the game.
"If you look at these last two games, it's been mental [lapses], not through lack of confidence or anything like that, but understanding of conditions and sniffing the danger. I think we can be a bit smarter about that."
He is also willing to carry that responsibility himself as he continues to search for a first Ashes hundred in Australia, having spent time working in the nets at the MCG to ensure he knows where his off stump is, so he can judge what to play and what to leave.
"That's the most frustrating thing on my part, an experienced batter shouldn't be making that mistake twice," he said. "Hence why I've been doing the work and I expect better from myself."
Despite the continued batting problems, it was the bowling that dominated the fallout from Adelaide after Root's comments that he felt England got the lengths wrong, which led to Ricky Ponting questioning why he did not push the bowlers into changing.
"I like to give our bowlers, especially the senior ones, that responsibility," Root said. "They have more than 300 Tests between them and over 1000 wickets, and they know what they are doing. It's working alongside them, it's not a dictatorship. Every now and again, you don't always agree on everything and that's fine. Ultimately, it's about coming to a point where you get the results we want. Unfortunately, in the last game, we didn't quite get there."
There has been differing reaction from within the England camp with Stuart Broad saying in his Mail on Sunday column, which came out while the second Test was still progress, that the economy rates would have "gone through the roof" by bowling fuller, while in the Daily Telegraph James Anderson suggested there could some validity in the criticism, although he referenced data that showed Australia were no fuller.
"We have to be better at assessing it during a game," Anderson said. "We can't just go after the game 'we should have bowled fuller'. If we are bowling too short, at lunch we need information back, saying we need to push our lengths up. We have to be a bit more proactive at that too as a whole group.
"In Australia, you have to hit the pitch hard and bowl every ball as if your life depends on it, as fast as you can, because you don't get anything here for just putting it on a length. You have to put your back into it. It is a balancing act to make sure it is full enough but not floaty. Look at the numbers. They show both sides bowled similar lengths. They did not bowl any fuller than us. But it is a case of the difference in techniques of the batters. It must be, because they took 20 wickets and we didn't."
All parts of England's game are going to have to work harmony in Melbourne if this series is to be alive going into 2022, but it could well be Root who has to make the difference for them in the end.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo