Chris Woakes has backed under-fire Joe Root to become a “great England captain” despite this winter’s Ashes travails.
Root has come in for some stinging criticism from former Australia captain Ricky Ponting since England’s innings defeat in Perth handed the urn back to the hosts before Christmas.
Ponting depicted a leader who needs to “step up big time”, who looks like a “little boy” and who does not have the respect of his team.
All-rounder Woakes begged to differ, issuing a rallying call for the tourists to show what they are made of in the final two matches – starting with the showpiece Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Asked in a BBC interview about Ponting’s comments on Root, Woakes said: “The way he goes about his business shows he has got what it takes to be a great England captain.
“He’s got the full backing from the team.”
The mild-mannered Woakes also delivered a straight-talking press conference at the MCG, where he conceded England can learn from the example Australia have set on their way to taking a 3-0 lead.
He accepts they owe themselves and their supporters improved displays.
“We can learn from Australia,” he said.
“We need to put in better performances, take the Test match with two hands and ram it home.
“They’ve made sure they don’t take the foot off the throat… take those chances, show some pride.”
Woakes insists England have players well capable of doing that.
He said: “We realise it’s too late to win the Ashes, but we still have a lot to play for and need to prove people wrong and show we can win Test matches out here.
“I firmly back this squad to do that.
“We’re constantly trying to improve, and the players are honest enough to say where we’ve gone wrong, where we need to improve, where we need to keep trying to challenge ourselves.
“We owe it to ourselves, to the management, the fans that have spent a hell of a lot of money to come out here.”
In England’s favour, he believes, is a togetherness which was lacking when they lost 5-0 here four years ago.
He said: “We are still together as a group, the morale is still high.
“There’s no bickering or separation, we have all stuck together.
“I wasn’t here on the previous tour, but by all accounts there were differences back then.
“That’s well known and that’s not the case this time.”
The absence of key Australia seamer Mitchell Starc because of a bruised heel tilts the balance back towards England – but Woakes is not getting carried away by that factor.
“He’s leading wicket-taker in the series, so he’s a loss for Australia.
“Any team that loses a guy like Mitchell is going to miss him. But they have Jackson Bird, and we won’t be taking him lightly.”
England will also be minus a first-choice seamer, having confirmed Craig Overton will miss the match because of his fractured rib.
While the uncapped Tom Curran appears most likely to fill that vacancy, Woakes found himself being asked to respond on another front.
He was asked whether he is about to give David Warner his “Christmas wish” by engaging in some verbal spats with the combative Australia opener.
Wisely, perhaps, he has decided to decline the opportunity.
“Whether I grant him his Christmas wish or not, I think we’ve bowled pretty well at him during this series,” he said.
“Maybe that contest will fire him up and make him score a few more runs – so we’ll probably keep quiet.”