Joe Root insists he’s still the right man to captain England despite becoming the first English skipper in 18 years not to emerge from a home Ashes series with the trophy.
The 28-year-old has won just one of nine Ashes Tests since becoming captain in 2016 and has accumulated just three half-centuries and the same number of ducks across eight innings of this current series.
Root’s side showed tremendous heart for a second successive Test as Australia struggled to close out their 185-run fourth Test win until 45 minutes before the scheduled close of play at Old Trafford.
The win put Australia 2-1 up and ensured they retain the Ashes with one Test still to play at The Oval.
However, after Ben Stokes gave an on-field team talk to the team before the second innings on Saturday, doubts have been raised by sections of the English media about whether Root is suitable to be captain.
“We are in the position we are and we have to make the most of that,” Root said.
“I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard at doing my best at that.
“That is in my control and I have to make sure I keep getting this team in the best shape to win as many games as possible.
Whenever you lose a series it hurts, I have to take that on the chin.
“You have to look at areas you want to get better at, both in yourself and as a team.”
There were no such worries on the Australian side, where captain Tim Paine was able to laud the former skipper Steve Smith as still getting better after his return from the ball-tampering suspension.
Nathan Lyon singled Smith out for praise prior to an emotional rendition of the team song in the Old Trafford outfield, calling his teammate into the middle of the huddle and telling the group how proud he is of the batsman’s remarkable return .
Smith, who collected his second man-of-the-match award of the series on Sunday, has tallied 671 runs at 134.2 to give him a shot of reaching Don Bradman’s peerless mark of 974 runs during the 1930 Ashes.
“Look at the Test matches and there have been times when one guy has made a difference and that has probably cost us the urn this time around,” Root said.
“It has been a series dominated by the ball … take Steve Smith out and it would be very similar from both teams.
Bowling at Steve Smith in this form is difficult and you have to make sure you take all your chances. We did not do that and that cost us.”
Smith, part of unsuccessful Ashes tours in 2013 and 2015, was thrilled to have ticked off one of his big “bucket-list” items.
Paine suggested Smith’s incredible returns were no surprise given his love of cricket and the 30-year-old’s “talent, hunger and skill”.
“People don’t see how driven he is and how he trains, eats and sleeps batting,” Paine said.
“He is just a genius and I never had any doubt he would come back and be the player he was. The scary thing is he’s getting better. I don’t know where it is going to stop, but we are enjoying being on the ride.”
England is likely to welcome back Chris Woakes for the fifth Test with allrounder Sam Curran also set to come in to the side at the expense of Surrey teammate Jason Roy.
Stokes’ shoulder issue limited his ability to bowl at Old Trafford, which will see Curran come in as the fifth bowling option.
Roy has struggled throughout the series to emulate his one-day form and was bowled through the gate twice in the fourth Test after being moved down the order to try and protect him from the new ball.
Root insists although the chance to claim the urn is gone, he is desperate to level the series in the final Test at The Oval, starting on Thursday.
“We have to make sure we finish this summer strong,” he said.
“We have Test championship [points] to play for and do not want to lose this series. ”