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England must capitalise on Smith's absence, says Root


Big blow: Australia’s captain Tim Paine (left) and Steve Smith, who will miss out at Headingley through concussion
Big blow: Australia’s captain Tim Paine (left) and Steve Smith, who will miss out at Headingley through concussion
Joe Root

By Rory Dollard

Joe Root has called on England to take advantage of Steve Smith's concussion-enforced absence from the Headingley Test, while crossing his fingers Jason Roy does not miss out for the same reason.

Australia's hopes of improving their position in the series, 1-0 up after a big win at Edgbaston and last week's Lord's draw, took a hit with the news that their best player has not been cleared for action for day one today.

Root knows how it feels to be denied a star performer, having lost record wicket-taker James Anderson to a calf injury on the first morning of the first Test, and realises the opportunity Jofra Archer's 92mph bouncer has created.

"They will be huge shoes to fill," Root said. "It's very unfortunate on their part but we had the challenge of Jimmy going down four overs into a Test and had to manage without a replacement.

"You get swings within a big series like this every now and again and when you get your opportunity you've got to jump on it. There was a lot of concern in our dressing room for his health but it's great to see he's fine."

England had an unexpected worry of their own when Roy was struck in the nets on Tuesday, ducking into a throw-down from Marcus Trescothick, who has been working with the team as a batting consultant.

Roy was struck on the shock-absorbing stem guard -an optional add-on to the helmet which Smith does not wear - and was cleared to continue his session.

He passed another concussion test and batted on the eve of the game but England protocols require him to be assessed again on the morning of the match before being passed fit.

As such, England have called for his Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope, fresh from a knock of 221 not out against Hampshire, to join the squad on standby.

"Jason's been monitored quite closely, as you'd expect. But as it stands I fully expect him to be fit and ready to go," Root said. "Obviously there is a huge amount of attention around concussion. He has cleared all of the tests absolutely fine until now but there is a period where you have got to be extra cautious."

Only a small percentage of concussions present 48 hours or more after impact but, given the recent spate of blows to the head, the potential for brain injuries have been thrust into the spotlight and forced hard-bitten competitors to take the on-field battle in perspective.

"Of course this is a huge series and it means so much to all our players, but it doesn't mean that much in terms of someone getting seriously hurt and potentially ruining their life," Root said.

"It is really important we look after the players. We have team doctors and medics and we have to respect their decision. The safety of the player has to come first."

Root also offered a different perspective when asked for his own experiences of hostile bowling.

"The thing that hurts the most is your ego," Root said. "You're stood out there in front of 35,000 people and someone has mugged you off."

There is sure to be an even greater emphasis on Archer's performance over the next five days given his eye-catching debut, but Root has seen nothing to doubt his readiness.

"He's dealing with it pretty well. He sets up his Fortnite (video game) at the hotel and plays. He's just a very relaxed character, unfazed by anything. He's one of those guys who seems to be born for these occasions," he said.

The absence of a batsman whose Test average of 63.24 is only bettered in history by the great Sir Don Bradman leaves a sizeable void - and one Australia captain Tim Paine insists Marnus Labuschagne is not responsible for filling alone.

Labuschagne replaced Smith as international cricket's first concussion substitute at the Home of Cricket and took a blow to the helmet from another Archer bumper.

He recovered and performed commendably in Smith's stead, registering a 100-ball 59 as the tourists secured a nail-biting draw, therefore earning his place for Leeds.

Paine said: "Marnus is strange, he seems to enjoy getting hit on the head. Marnus has handled himself exceptionally, his innings was unbelievable after that.

"But there aren't too many guys, there's only one other, that have averaged higher than Steve in Test cricket. Clearly they are huge shoes to fill and we don't put all that pressure on Marnus.

"Marnus comes in to play a role in our team and it's up to everyone else, particularly our senior players, to just make sure we give that little bit more output and cover Steve as best we can."

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