LONDON – Joe Root has already been a central figure in the buildup to his first Ashes series and Australia's captain Michael Clarke fired an unsubtle message to the young Yorkshireman on the eve of his first Test against Australia at Trent Bridge.
Root's selection to open the batting with Alastair Cook has been the major talking point of the last fortnight, especially after Nick Compton went public with his bitter disappointment at missing out.
The 22-year-old had already irritated the Australians, or at least their aggressive opener David Warner, sufficiently to be the recipient of a physical attack in Birmingham's Walkabout bar after England's Champions Trophy victory at Edgbaston last month.
Clarke dismissed the possibility of arranging a meeting between Root and Warner to clear the air should Warner be called in from the cold to play at Trent Bridge. But he readily confirmed that Australia are relieved that England have chosen to break Compton's opening partnership with Cook.
"We haven't bowled to Joe yet, but we didn't manage to get Nick out that easily, so I'm happy he's not playing, to be honest," said Clarke, referring to Compton's performances against the tourists in their warm-up matches against Somerset and Worcestershire, in which he batted for more than 10 hours in making 220 runs from 438 balls.
"I think Nick showed over the last couple of four-day matches that he's got a lot of class. He's got a very good defence and I'm surprised he's not in the first Test team for England."
Compton, who is eligible for Zimbabwe but opted to play for England, is back in Taunton playing for Somerset, leaving Root to prepare for his first taste of the Ashes in Nottingham. Cook is confident that he will cope with whatever Australia propel at him, from their hands or mouths.
"He's kind of thrown in there but he has handled himself in every situation fantastically well since he made his England debut," said the captain.
That debut was less than seven months ago, in the fourth Test against India in Nagpur – where Cook made his bow, as a 21-year-old in March 2006. But he had played nine Tests, and scored three centuries, before facing Australia for the first time in Brisbane eight months later.
Root has played six, five of them against New Zealand, making his maiden Test century on home territory at Headingley in May and Cook has been equally impressed by the way he has established himself so quickly in all forms of the game.
"What has impressed everyone is he has always batted the situation fantastically well," he said. "Whether it has been a one-day game where you need to score quickly or see the side home, he has managed to change his style for Twenty20 and Test matches as well.
"So I can see no reason why he can't handle himself. He is a fantastic young player. Yes he has got a huge amount of improvement to do but I think he will be absolutely fine."
The big question is whether he will square up to Warner. Australia's bad boy has not played since that Champions Trophy defeat by England on 8 June, as the suspension imposed for his attack on Root ruled him out of the games against Somerset and Worcestershire.
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has confirmed that Warner will not be the opening the innings, naming Shane Watson and Chris Rogers to face the new ball, but encouraged the speculation that Warner might come straight back into the side in the middle order, possibly as low as No6 where he would be expected to counterattack Graeme Swann. – The Guardian