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Rob Key: “If Root can do it in this series, that sends him into the completely elite level with the Pontings, the Laras and all that lot. He has started so well”, Sky Sports pundit says strong day three for England in Brisbane was vital for the game and the rest of The Ashes series

Last Updated: 10/12/21 9:51am

Joe Root is approaching the level of the likes of Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, says Rob Key

Joe Root is approaching the level of the likes of Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, says Rob Key

Rob Key says Joe Root is on the verge of joining the “completely elite level” of all-time Test batters after closing in on a maiden Ashes hundred in Australia.

Root is unbeaten on 86 after day three of the first Test in Brisbane and hoping to turn his seventh Test fifty in Australia into a first three-figure score, with his best so far a total of 87 in Adelaide in 2013.

The England captain has scored a national record 1,541 runs in Test cricket in 2021 – beating the previous record of 1,481 set by Michael Vaughan in 2002 – with Key saying success in Australia is Root’s “final frontier”.

“Our captain is such a good player, one of our greatest-ever cricketers,” former England and Kent batter Key told Sky Sports News.

“If he can do it in this series, that sends him into the completely elite level with the Pontings, the Laras and all that lot. He has started so well.”

Root – who was dismissed for a duck on day one at The Gabba – and Dawid Malan (80no) have shared an unbroken third-wicket partnership of 159 to steer England from 61-2 to 220-2 in their second innings and cut the tourists’ deficit to just 58 runs.

Malan said: “Batting with Root is great. He takes the pressure off you and always looks to score. He always seems to find a way of putting the pressure back on the bowlers. His method works everywhere he plays.

“For him to carry on the form he had this year [in the subcontinent in the winter and then at home in England] has been fantastic. It’s great signs for us as a team that he is playing well and leading from the front.”

Sky Sports’ Ian Ward added: “There’s a lot on Root’s plate and, especially after not scoring in the first innings, you can only imagine the pressure he must have felt walking out with England two down relatively early.

“He seems to be in a very good place to compartmentalise captaincy, the pressures that come with it, and his batting. Root the batsman is arguably more important than his captaincy – he’s that important in terms of runs.”

Root (left) and Dawid Malan (right) have shared an unbroken stand of 159 at The Gabba

Root (left) and Dawid Malan (right) have shared an unbroken stand of 159 at The Gabba

Australia led by 278 on first innings after replying to England’s 147 all out on day one with 425 as Travis Head scored 152 from 148 deliveries.

Reflecting on day three, which began with Australia on 343-7 and ahead by 196, Key said: “You just thought that with everything that has happened England were going to struggle. All the momentum was with Australia.

“I was out there in 2002/03 and we got hammered in the first Test and you started to think, ‘we can never beat these guys’.

“But a partnership like the one Root and Malan have put on goes right into that dressing room and shows they can score runs here.

“What happens in Australia is that all the talk becomes how good Australia’s bowling attack is, how good Nathan Lyon is compared to our spinner [Jack Leach]. Don’t worry about that. You can score runs against him and they have done that in a positive way.

Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon remains rooted on 399 Test wickets after 24 barren overs on day three in Brisbane

Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon remains rooted on 399 Test wickets after 24 barren overs on day three in Brisbane

“England would still be in a better position if Root had elected to bowl on day one but this is now the sort of pitch English batters will dream of. They never get to bat on pitches as good as this – this is proper cricket.

“In England, normally you just put the ball on a good length and it does something but this pitch in Brisbane is a good Test pitch.

“There is something in it for the bowlers but it looks an absolute belter for the batters. There is some pace in it, which is so rare in England, and you can play your shots. It must be a joy for them to bat.”

England still have Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler to come in their second innings as they look to set Australia a taxing fourth-innings target.

Ollie Pope scored 35 in England's first innings in Brisbane

Ollie Pope scored 35 in England’s first innings in Brisbane

Key added: “Australia will be knackered as much as anything. You come off after a day like that and you are just happy to be off the field.

“But they will be thinking, and [head coach] Justin Langer will be drumming into them, that there is a new ball due soon.

“That is their next window of opportunity and if they get that right they will feel that they are still in the box seat.

“Australia are still favourites but England are back in this game – and, you feel, almost back in this series. You feel that if they had been blown away in this game it might have been tough for them to come back.”

Australia are still favourites to win the first Test, says Key

Australia are still favourites to win the first Test, says Key

Speaking to BT Sport, former England captain Sir Alastair Cook said: “It was just the day England needed and the tour needed.

“Everyone was saying England were going to lose at Brisbane again and that it was all doom and gloom – but Root, on day one, said this side had character and they do have character.

“They were brilliant with the ball in terms of effort and the character Root and Malan showed with the bat was fantastic. The momentum is slowly shifting towards England.”



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