Root to assess future as England captain after Ashes but Stokes has no desire to take over

England involved in calamitous tour of Australia which has seen the Test series lost in record time

Joe Root has said he will assess his future as England captain at the end of the Ashes series but his focus now is only on helping his side salvage some pride from the tour, while Ben Stokes has ruled himself out of potentially taking over as skipper.

Root, 31, will become England's longest-serving Test captain at the fourth Test in Sydney on Wednesday, surpassing predecessor Alastair Cook's 59 matches in charge, but he is under pressure after three consecutive heavy defeats to Australia.

"Obviously it's been very challenging and we've had a lot to deal with, not just on the field but off it, and we are just trying to manage it as best we can," Root said of the calamitous tour. "I'll look at my future beyond this tour at the end of it.

"I think there are questions for me to answer. I don't think, as a distraction around the group, it should be something I'm wasting energy on now.

"I need to make sure I throw everything I can into these next two games. I owe that to this team and the players. That will give us the best chance of getting the results that we desire."

There are few obvious candidates to replace Root with vice-captain Stokes at the top of the list, but the 30-year-old all-rounder said he is not interested and backed Root to continue.

"I've never really had an ambition to be a captain," Stokes was quoted as saying by the BBC. "Captaincy is more than about setting fields, picking the team, making decisions out there in the middle. A captain is someone you want to go out and play for. Joe Root is someone I always want to play for."

Stokes has led England once previously, a Test defeat by West Indies in 2020 when Root was on paternity leave. However, Stokes said he doesn't believe Root is ready to give up the role.

"I don't sense that at all with Joe," he said. "He's brought this team a long way. He's done some great things.

"Obviously, this series hasn't gone too well, not from a captaincy point of view but from a team and results point of view. It's totally Joe's decision."

Stokes also backed beleaguered England coach Chris Silverwood, who will miss the Sydney Test because of Covid.

"All the hype in the media recently about their futures, it's your job to write that, but they know full well they have the support of everyone in there and that's all that matters," Stokes said.

Usman Khawaja during a nets session at the Sydney Cricket Ground. PA

Australia's preparations have also been affected by Covid, with batsman Travis Head unavailable after he tested positive in Melbourne.

With Head missing, Australia called up Mitchell Marsh and Josh Inglis into the squad as cover, but the experienced Usman Khawaja is likely to replace him for his first Test since the 2019 Ashes.

"Hopefully I can go out there and score a hundred and do well for the team in the absence of 'Heady'," Khawaja said. "I'm in the best cricket conditioning I've been."

There was talk that the home team could hand leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson a debut on what is traditionally the most spin-friendly of the Australian Test venues. But with showers forecast for the first four days, that now appears less likely, with the strong grass cover expected to make the pitch more fast-bowler friendly.

If recovered from a side strain, Josh Hazlewood will return to bolster Australia's already strong bowling stocks.

If he isn't quite ready, Scott Boland could retain his place after a remarkable 6-7 on debut in the Boxing Day Test, or Jhye Richardson – who grabbed a five-wicket haul in Adelaide – will return after being rested for Melbourne.

"I've got pretty good faith that if Hoff's (Hazlewood) confident and he says he's right to go, I think we back him in. He's earned that trust," said chief selector George Bailey.

Updated: January 3rd 2022, 6:18 AM