Joe Root says Test series against New Zealand and India give England the chance to perfect their blueprint ahead of The Ashes – but that his side will not look past their opponents this summer.
England play two games against New Zealand this month, starting at Lord’s on Wednesday, before five against India across August and September as they take on the top two sides in the Test rankings, who will meet each other in the World Test Championship Final in Southampton from June 18.
The winter will then see Root’s men try to regain the Ashes by winning in Australia for the first time since 2010-11 and the captain believes their best chance of achieving that is by flourishing at home beforehand.
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Root said: “There are going to be constant conversations about Australia throughout this whole summer, there is no getting away from that.
“We have said for a long time now that we are planning towards that series and as an English fan, an English player, it is such an iconic series.
“It is of utmost importance, absolutely. But the way we are best going to prepare ourselves is by performing well in these seven Tests, by winning seven Test matches against the best two sides in the world.
“Implementing that game-plan we talk about quite frequently of being smart about taking 20 wickets in whatever conditions we face and getting big first-innings runs.
“That is the best way of filling the side with confidence going to Australia as they work well in these conditions but also in Australia
“Planning for Australia is something in the background, it’s something we are very aware of and consistently talk about. But that won’t be in our thoughts when we are out there this summer.
Our vice-captain for #ENGvNZ 🏏@StuartBroad8 👏 pic.twitter.com/emItKObWQX
“You couldn’t be asking for two better opponents right now – to take on the best is what sport is all about and every Test means a hell of a lot to our players and to me. These Tests are our full focus.
“We want to get going and set the tone for the summer. This [first Test] is a great opportunity to lay down a marker.”
England are without a number of first-team regulars for the two Tests against New Zealand due to injury and rest, including Ben Stokes (finger), Jofra Archer (elbow) and Jos Butter, who has been given an extended break having quarantined after returning from the Indian Premier League.
However, Root believes England’s strength in depth is as potent as it has been since he became Test captain in 2017.
He said: “It is starting to develop massively. This winter [in Sri Lanka and India] was massive in terms of developing spinners, in particular.
“A number of guys went out there and have come back with brilliant experiences and gone back into the county game and put in some brilliant performances. It is great to see that happen.
“The amount of seamers in and around the squad now and the quality that is there is fantastic, while after a long time of that top-order position being hard to nail down, guys have grabbed that, and there are guys pushing hard for those spots, too.
“It does feel like there is good strength there and how you grow and become a better, more consistent team over time is by getting that nudge from guys just outside the XI putting pressure on and driving standards higher.”
Root also revealed he is looking for England to churn out consistent runs down the order across the seven games against New Zealand and India.
The Yorkshireman added: “One of the big incentives for this group and something we want is improving those lower-order runs.
“I don’t want to talk too much about Australia but it is something we have struggled with in the past there and something we need to address now ahead of that challenge.
“We are playing against the best two sides in the world this summer so it’s something they will be looking to exploit and something we want to keep looking to improve.
“Guys have the responsibility to upskill themselves and make big contributions.”
Watch the first Test between England and New Zealand, at Lord’s, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10am on Wednesday.
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