Joe Root has set the lofty target of securing seven successive Test victories this summer, even if the England captain concedes that planning for the winter’s Ashes assault will likely dominate thoughts in the background.
The first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s, starting on Wednesday, heralds the return of international crowds after a year-long absence, with the two-match series followed by five against India from 4 August. As the two best teams in the world at present – and finalists in the World Test Championship – this dual challenge is a stiff one.
However, Root, who confirmed a debut for Gloucestershire’s James Bracey behind the stumps and the appointment of Stuart Broad as vice-captain in the absence of the injured Ben Stokes, remains unapologetic about England’s priority this year being the trip to Australia in November.
“There’s going to be constant conversations about Australia throughout this summer,” Root said. “There’s no getting away from that. We’ve said for a long time now we’re planning towards that series. As an English fan, as an English player it is such an iconic series and one that holds so much weight.
“You talk about readying a side – winning seven Test matches before going to Australia is the best way of doing that, filling the side with confidence. Playing against the two best sides currently is a great opportunity for these players.”
It seems slightly counterintuitive but Root and Chris Silverwood, the head coach, have at least been consistent in their messaging here. To that end Bracey is not the only player set to be handed a first cap, with Ollie Robinson likely to be trialled at as part of a four-pronged pace attack unless England plump for Jack Leach upon seeing the pitch at the toss.
Before then will come a “moment of unity” when both England and New Zealand will line up for a two-minute silence that is intended to deliver a message against all forms of discrimination. England were criticised when they stopped taking a knee for Black Lives Matter last summer but Root insists the sentiment remains.
Root said: “We know at the start of last summer it unearthed some ugly truths in society and in our sport. We have done some workshops recently to try and make ourselves a bit more comfortable dealing with those issues within the game and educating ourselves further.
“This summer we will be looking at working with hopefully three projects where we can take the game to more diverse areas around the country, where we can continue to look to grow the game and offer our help and support in doing that.”
While details of the projects are yet to be made public, the show of unity will mirror those performed before the start of this year’s County Championship and the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy. Players will have the option to take a knee during the gesture, should they so desire.
On the field, and with the absence of Stokes affecting the balance of the side, Root stated a desire for England’s lower order to start delivering runs given it is an area “the two best sides in the world” will look to exploit. As regards the make up of this attack, the England captain said he was growing in confidence as a part-time spinner, lending credence to the notion that Leach misses out.
Root praised Broad’s “very good cricket” brain when confirming his temporary promotion to vice-captain – something which sits in contrast to being left out of the first Test last summer – and welcomed the return of crowds. Lord’s will have a 25% capacity and MCC has prioritised ticket-holders with children.