Root focused on mental Ashes prep as Brisbane weather plays spoilsport
The entire England squad will get together on Tuesday for the first time since landing in Australia and completing quarantine
England's Ashes campaign officially gets underway on Tuesday, according to Joe Root, the Test captain, with the emergence from quarantine of the multi-format players who featured in the recent T20 World Cup in the UAE, and the scheduled start of an intra-squad four-day match in Brisbane.
Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes, all of whom featured in England's run to the semi-finals, will be available for selection in the fixture against England Lions at the Ian Healy Oval, after completing their 14 days of quarantine, with the tour's coaching contingent of Chris Silverwood, Paul Collingwood, Jeetan Patel and James Foster also now able to link up with the rest of the squad.
But to judge by the weather that the main Ashes party has been encountering on the Gold Coast since their own arrival at the start of the month, it promises to be a soggy reunion, with Root admitting that the players may need to focus on their mental preparation to compensate for their limited time in the middle.
Only 29 overs were possible on the opening day of the initial three-day warm-up against the England Lions last week, meaning that the openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed, and the spinner Dom Bess - leant out to the Lions attack - are the only three members of the Ashes party to have had any match practice since the start of the tour.
And for that reason, Root said the proposed first-class status of the squad match had been downgraded, to allow enough flexibility to give the team's key players sufficient time in the middle - among them Ben Stokes, who has not batted in a red-ball match since the tour of India in February.
"It's been unusual," Root admitted, "Having spent a period of time in quarantine and training within that quarantine phase, and then coming to Brisbane. We haven't had that three-day game, as we would have liked, but it was always going to be the case that tomorrow was really the first day as a squad that we would get together, with those World Cup guys joining us.
"So we always knew that this next phase was going to be the most crucial part, in terms of getting tight, getting clear and readying ourselves, and that's going to be the real test for us.
"We want that intensity to be as high as we can, as close to the Test matches as we can, and I expect it to be very competitive," Root said of the four-day fixture. "The quality of the players will be there from both teams and, because of the lack of preparation that we've had in that previous three-day game, having that extra bit of flexibility to make sure we can get as many guys what they need throughout these four days is going to be crucial.
"But it might be that, in the next couple of days, we get some similar weather and we don't get the time out there in the middle. But whether you play those games in your mind a little bit more, visualise a little bit more, it's really important you find different ways of making sure that, when that first ball comes down at the Gabba, we're in the best place possible."
Stokes endured a dramatic 24 hours over the weekend, after briefly choking on a tablet that got lodged in his windpipe in his hotel-room, and then being struck on the forearm while facing throw-downs in the nets from the batting consultant, Jonathan Trott. And while Root was eager to downplay the latter incident, he acknowledged the blow would need to be monitored as he continues his return to action.
"It was a bit of a concern," Root said. "The wickets, because of the weather, have been slightly spicy and guys have really had to get stuck in. There have been a few little knocks here and there. To see Ben get hit like that was obviously a scary moment. We all know how crucial he is within our squad but he seems to have come through it pretty well.
"He practised again today and again we'll keep assessing, making sure it doesn't have a prolonged effect on him. It's going to be really important that he gets himself ready both physically and mentally for this series and to play a big part in it."
Either way, England could still find themselves with more match readiness going into that first Test on December 8 than Australia, whose own lack of red-ball game-time has been compounded by internal upheaval, following the resignation of Tim Paine as captain, and the appointment of Pat Cummins in his place.
"It's not really for us to worry about," Root said. "For us, it is about readying ourselves as best we can. Playing against Pat, I know what a competitor he is and what he brings to their team. I expect him to do just that as a captain as well. But it is really important we focus on ourselves, get the most out of this lead-in and don't get distracted by anything that Australia are doing.
"There's a lot of people that will want to prove things, and will want to show that they deserve an opportunity for that first Test match," Root added. "This is a really good chance for us to get ahead of things, maybe get ahead of Australia in terms of preparation and game-time ahead of the series, and it would be silly for us to just cosy our way through the four days. It has to be good hard proper cricket that we'll benefit from, going into the first Test."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket