Joe Root claimed England’s dramatic draw in Sydney had restored pride in his team and represented “a small step forward” after their Ashes disappointment.
Root’s side batted for the entire fifth day at the SCG, clinging on as they finished on 270 for nine with last man James Anderson arriving at the crease to see off the final over of the match.
While the urn was already lost after three hefty defeats over 12 depressing days of action, this was a much-needed show of resilience from a side that had been widely tipped to capitulate 5-0.
Three batters survived for 100 balls or more – Zak Crawley, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow all carrying a sizeable share of the load – while Anderson’s late act of defiance was preceded by gutsy innings by fellow tailenders Stuart Broad and Jack Leach.
Root, for once, was not central to his side’s efforts having fallen for 24 in the afternoon session but he has long shouldered too much of the burden and was delighted with what he saw.
“It’s a small step forward. Coming into the game I spoke a lot about putting pride back into English cricket and into our Test performances,” he said.
“I think the fight and the desire and the character shown here in these five days has done that in a small way. We never make it easy for ourselves do we?
“It would have been nice if all the work had been done by the top order, as you always want, but it doesn’t seem to fall like that. We found a way to get it done today and it was very much a team effort.”
Root was desperate not to add a 5-0 defeat to his CV as well as a second series loss Down Under and that is now off the table, meaning no repeat of the 2006/07 and 2013/14 nadirs.
When England were bowled out for a dismal 68 on the third morning of the Boxing Day Test, no such salvation seemed possible.
“It’s hugely important, especially on the back of the previous Test which was a really dark day for English Test cricket,” he said.
“It would have been easy to roll over and feel sorry for ourselves. The guys were trying to put some pride back in the badge and show how much they care about playing for England. We didn’t win the Test match and were a very long way behind the game but we found a way to get a draw and that shows the character, the pride and the desire the guys feel when they put on an England shirt.”
Three of England’s top seven carried painful injuries into the day’s play, Stokes battling a side strain, Bairstow with a badly hurt right thumb and Jos Buttler nursing a fractured left index finger.
While the first two head to Hobart for the series finale uncertain of their participation, Buttler has already been ruled out and could yet struggle to make the West Indies tour in March. It is not impossible that he has even played his final Test. Sam Billings has joined the squad as cover and should deputise in Tasmania.
“Jos is going to have to fly home, he won’t take any further part in the tour,” said Root.
“It’s quite a serious injury, so for him to front up as he did from the moment he took that knock shows how much he cares and how much it means for him to play in this Test team and for England.
“The guys could all see a number of the players hurting physically and still putting in a huge amount. In many ways it lifted the rest of the group and I’m really proud of the way they stood up at times while clearly in a lot of pain, to produce for England.
“There was clearly a bit of pain relief required out there. It’s not just a physical element but the psychological, knowing you’re going into a pressure situation not 100%.
“To be able to perform at the level that some of the guys did was phenomenal and shows a huge amount of character. It’s a step forward for the team, definitely, in some quite difficult circumstances.”