England close in on retaining the Ashes as Root leads the charge

 
Julian Harris
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ENGLAND captain Alastair Cook poured praise on youngster Joe Root last night after the 22-year-old inspired the host side to their second largest Test victory over Australia of all time, to go 2-0 up in this summer’s Ashes series.

Root could not manage to record a double century yesterday morning, falling 20 runs short, but ensured his man of the match award by taking two Australian wickets as England trounced the tourists by 347 runs.

And Cook is delighted to see his contentious call to promote Root to open the batting, at the expense of Nick Compton, has been paying off.

“We’ve seen over his very short international career what an outstanding player he is,” Cook said, admitting that even he was surprised by Root’s ability as a spin bowler, as well as a prolific batsman.

“The most impressive thing about him is he adapts his game to whatever the situation requires. To score a big hundred like that is a huge credit to him – he can be mightily proud of his performance in this game.”

England can now seal the series with a win in the third Test at Old Trafford, yet Cook admitted they may have to do so without key batsman Kevin Pietersen.

“Clearly it’s a concern, he’s got a slight strain on his calf,” Cook added.

“He’s a world class player, it’s a big hole if he’s not there.”

Starting the day with a mammoth 566-run lead, and with Root on 178 not out, England batted on in the hope that the Yorkshireman could reach a double century.

Yet his partner in the middle, Jonny Bairstow, fell in the third over and Root, on 180 runs, soon followed suit – a cheeky ramp shot resulting in him being caught by Steve Smith at third man.

England declared immediately, setting Australia a seemingly impossible target of 583 runs to win the match.

The Aussie openers lasted half an hour of fast bowling, yet were broken in the seventh over as Shane Watson was rapped on the pads by a ball from James Anderson and given lbw. Of Watson’s four dismissals in the opening couple of Tests, three have been for lbw.

Spinner Graeme Swann then came into play, claiming Chris Rogers’ wicket with his fifth ball, before also seeing off Phil Hughes before lunch.

The visitors fought back with captain Michael Clarke and Usman Khawaja both reaching half-centuries, yet Clarke fell to Root just five minutes after scoring his 50, while Khawaja became Root’s second victim, out for 54.

Another wicket fell in the very next over as Smith went for one run, while Ashton Agar could only add 16.

Only six more runs were added to the board before wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin was trapped lbw by Swann.

Peter Siddle was bowled by Anderson before the clock struck 6pm, yet England struggled to find the final wicket and had to ask the umpires for an extra half an hour’s play.

With just four balls of the day to go, Swann caught Pattinson lbw to wrap up the match with a day to spare.