England owe under-fire skipper Root a win: Bairstow

MELBOURNE - England's players owed under-fire skipper Joe Root their utmost to turn the tables on dominant Australia in the showpiece Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow said Saturday.

The Ashes has already been decided with Australia taking the first three Tests, but England is scrambling to avoid an embarrassing 5-0 series whitewash. Bairstow said captain Root was coping with the growing pressure and the England team was working hard to break their run of outs against the Australians in the fourth Test, starting at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday. "We don't just owe him (Root), we owe ourselves as well," Bairstow told reporters.

"It's something that you don't come away and work as hard as we work to get nothing out of at all. "So without doubt in these next two games it's a case of, in our eyes, a two-Test series now and that's exactly how we've got to look at it. "We've got to go out there and try and win both of these Test matches."

Root has been in the firing line leading a disastrous England tour and has been blasted by former Australia captain Ricky Ponting as looking like a "little boy" who has been a "bit soft" during the Ashes defeat. Ponting senses Root is struggling to command the respect a leader needs, and suggests that has been demonstrated by some of England's off-field controversies. "Those things show a complete lack of respect for him as captain," Ponting told reporters. "To be honest, I think he has been under pressure right from the start because of things that have been happening off the field."

Bairstow "headbutted" Australia's Cameron Bancroft in a bar in October, while this month England Lions batsman Ben Duckett was suspended for pouring a drink over England bowler James Anderson. Ponting said England need Root to "step up big time" and criticised him for being "too shy" in his post-match news conferences. "The way he answered a lot of the questions after the game last week seemed almost like a little boy," said Ponting. "You need to be more than that as a leader, especially when things aren't going well. It just looks like it has been a little bit soft." Ponting, who captained Australia in 77 of his 168 Tests between 1995 and 2012, said England had been "blown away" in the series. Despite Root winning all three tosses, Australia won by 10 wickets in Brisbane, 120 runs in Adelaide and an innings and 41 runs in Perth. "They have been completely blown away. Unless you can find some drastic ways to get better, I'm not sure how they are going to improve," Ponting said.

Stokes cuts short NZ stay to return to England

England allrounder Ben Stokes has ended his brief New Zealand cameo and is returning to the England "for family reasons", Canterbury cricket officials confirmed Saturday.

Stokes has been playing for Canterbury, his New Zealand birth province, for the past month while waiting to learn if he would be cleared to join the England side in the Ashes series in Australia.  In a brief statement, Canterbury Cricket chief executive Jez Curwin said Stokes was leaving for "family reasons", with his wife and young family back in England. "Ben has been great around the club, the team and the staff. We can't fault his attitude or his all-round contribution in his time with us and we are sorry that he couldn't stay with us for longer," Curwin said.

The 26-year-old Stokes has been banned from international duties while police investigate his alleged role in a fight outside a nightclub in Bristol three months ago. Curwin told Fairfax media that Stokes' departure had "nothing to do with the legal situation. 

"Christmas time, he's a long way from home and he's been through a lot. And the reality is he wants to spend Christmas with his wife and two kids, who miss him a huge amount."

Stokes has been provisionally named in England's one-day international squad to play Australia next month, depending on his legal situation, but in the Canterbury Cricket statement he did not refer to his playing prospects. "I have thoroughly enjoyed training and playing with Canterbury. Everyone here has gone out of their way to make me feel at home. It's a wonderful club and I couldn't have asked for any more from my time here" he said.

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