The memory of Steven Smith laughing in the Brisbane post-game press conference is all the motivation England need in Adelaide according to captain Joe Root.
The England camp were underwhelmed by the image of the Australia captain in near hysterics as Cameron Bancroft revealed details of the incident between him and Jonny Bairstow in Perth a month earlier. While it would be wrong to interpret that laughter as necessarily disrespectful or mocking – there were some comically absurd moments in the press conference – the idea that Smith should be so amused by an incident that embarrassed Bairstow and briefly destabilised the England camp has left quite a mark on Root and his team.
And while he did not quite say that Australia had crossed a line, Root did suggest they had behaved in a way in which England would not.
“I think their line and our line are slightly different things, let’s leave it at that,” Root said.
“To see a reaction like that in a press conference is I mean if that can’t get you up for the next game then I don’t know what can. If that’s not motivation to the players, I don’t know what is.
“Hopefully that will work massively in our favour. I know it’s an Ashes series, there is a lot on the line and naturally you are going to be motivated for every game but knowing the characters in our dressing-room that will really give them a bit of something else to make sure we put things right this week.
“I wouldn’t say we’re angry, it’s more about how respond to it and make sure we do it in our way and not get dragged in to doing it in their way.
“It’s not how we roll. It’s not how we operate as a team. I think it is very important we continue to play this tour in the manner that we have gone about it so far and that we don’t get involved in petty disputes and arguments that are nothing to do with cricket.”
While England were disappointed with the episode, they were not especially surprised. Root referenced both the “mintgate” affair involving Faf du Plessis in November 2016 and Jonathan Trott’s breakdown in Brisbane during the previous Ashes in Australia as examples of previous incidents that had precipitated a hysterical reaction, suggesting it might be “a strategy.”
“I think it’s something you expect when you come here now,” Root said. “You look at Faf-gate last year and there were comments last time we were here as well with Trotty and other players. It’s part of touring Australia now I think.
“It’s a strategy they use on occasions and we’ve got to move forward as a team. We all knew it was blown widely out of proportion.”
In truth, it is probably the result – and the margin of defeat – that smarts the most. Although England feel they competed well for the first three days of the match, the fact is that Australia won by a pretty crushing 10 wickets.
But Root maintained that England showed how they could win in Brisbane; they just didn’t sustain the performance for long enough. And with this match being played under lights and using a pink ball, he feels conditions may be in England’s favour.
“Take Steve Smith’s innings out of it and they were 160 all out in the first innings,” he said. “We made him work extremely hard for his runs and kept him very quiet by his standards. By doing that it built pressure at the other end and we took wickets.
“In terms of our batting, we need to do what we did in the first innings for longer. The way we went about it and, in particular, how the inexperienced guys handled pressure situations was really promising. But promising doesn’t win you Test matches.
“We have to turn those two-and-a-half hour periods into full days of cricket. If we do that we’ll win games. If we scored 400 plus in that first innings and were really clinical with the ball when we had them seven down, I have every confidence we would have won that game.
“The pink ball game has come at a good time for us. We played at this ground a couple of weeks ago and have a good idea of what the conditions can be like. It might be a little bit cooler as well, looking at the forecast, with a bit of rain around, so you are looking at more English style conditions. You saw at Brisbane that as soon as the ball did do anything sideways, we were massively in the game.
“That is going to be our big focus moving forward: being ruthless as a bowling unit and getting the ball moving laterally. We have to find ways to get stuff out of the wicket when it is slightly flatter and if we can do that I have full confidence we will bowl them out cheaply on a number of occasions on this tour.”