England captain Root eyes New Zealand and India sweep ahead of Ashes

London (AFP) –


Joe Root believes there will be no better way for England to prepare to regain the Ashes in Australia later this year than by completing a home clean sweep of New Zealand and India.

The England captain will lead his side in the first of a two-match series against New Zealand at Lord's on Wednesday, with five more Tests against India before the English season is finished.

India, top of the Test rankings, and second-placed New Zealand will contest the inaugural World Test Championship final at Southampton, southern England, later this month.

England, and many of their supporters, have long given the impression that matches against arch-rivals Australia are the only Tests that really count, with everything else a 'warm-up'.

But such a viewpoint was labelled "limited, narrow and delusional" by former England captain Mike Atherton in The Times on Tuesday.

Root, however, saw no conflict between England's short and long-term goals.

"There's going to be constant conversations about Australia throughout this summer," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"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."

The key batsman added: "Every Test means a hell of a lot to these players, it means a hell of a lot to me and that (the Ashes) certainly won't be in our thoughts when we are out there playing these games."

And yet the hosts have chosen not to be at full-strength for the New Zealand opener, a match that marks the return of spectators to international cricket in England -- with capacity capped at 25 percent, around 7,500 spectators per day -- after the coronavirus pandemic saw all their home matches last year played behind closed doors.

Admittedly, World Cup-winners Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer have been ruled out through injury but England have also rested several players following their stints in the Indian Premier League, including wicketkeepers Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.

The absence of the two glovemen and the hamstring injury suffered while slipping on Surrey's dressing-room floor by Ben Foakes, England's keeper for much of this year's 3-1 series loss in India, has helped pave the way for Gloucestershire's James Bracey to make a Test debut.

- 'Challenge' -

New Zealand's first match at Lord's since their agonising 2019 World Cup final defeat by England, will see them bidding for just their second win in 18 Tests at the 'home of cricket'.


While formidable at home, where they have won 17 of their last 23 Tests, the Black Caps have been less successful on their travels with series successes against Zimbabwe and Pakistan overshadowed by six defeats from six Tests against India and Australia.

England have not lost a home Test series since 2014, but were New Zealand to end that record it would be an ideal way to go into their showpiece match against India.

"There is always room to improve," said New Zealand captain and outstanding batsman Kane Williamson.

"We have a tough challenge against England and then India," he added ahead of a match where opener Devon Conway is set for a Test debut.

"We know how clinical England are, certainly in their own conditions."