Joe Root has said sealing a Test series win in South Africa this week would be the biggest achievement of his England captaincy and insisted: “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
Root’s side head into the fourth and final Test at the Wanderers on Friday 2-1 ahead following back-to-back victories at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. That saw them come back from 1-0 down after they lost the opening match of the series at Centurion, a contest where the tourists were badly affected by a sickness bug that affected 11 members of the squad and six support staff.
Given three key players – the opener Rory Burns, James Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, and the Somerset spinner Jack Leach – have all also been ruled out through injury or illness, winning the series during a tour even the players at one point had dubbed “cursed” would be a remarkable achievement.
Root’s best results in his first three years as Test captain have been a 3-0 series whitewash in Sri Lanka in late 2018 and a 4-1 home win against India, the world’s No 1-ranked team, the same year. Asked if winning this series would be his biggest achievement, Root said: “I think it probably would be yes, because of the different things we’ve had to manage throughout this tour.
“We’ve had injuries with senior players having to fly home and a lot of illness to deal with. And we have adapted to very different conditions and for a very young group of players to manage that has been very pleasing and a sign we’re doing the right things.
“If we can harness that and keep taking that forward and look to improve as a group then I do think the sky’s the limit for this team. But I do think we’re very much at the start of something here and we’re not perfect by any means. We have to keep that attitude and keep driving that forward for a long period of time if we want to get to No 1 in the world.”
Root remained coy on team selection for this final Test, insisting no decision has yet been made whether to pair Jofra Archer and Mark Wood in the same attack at a venue which boats the reputation as having one of the quickest pitches in the world.
In his first Test appearance for 11 months, Wood took three wickets in Port Elizabeth and England are positive he will be able to play back-to-back Tests for the first time since 2015.
Wood looked untroubled when he bowled during practice on Thursday. The same can be said of Archer, who has missed the past two Tests with an elbow injury but looks ready to return in Johannesburg. “Yes, it would be nice to see how they go together,” said Root. “It would be a relentless barrage of pace, which is exciting especially on this surface you typically get here at the Wanderers. It would be great to have that extra bit of pace and firepower.”