Billed as one of the world's best batsmen, Joe Root is still searching for a breakthrough knock in Australia as he attempts to lead England out of trouble this Ashes.

Root, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson have been widely viewed as a class above their peers in recent years.

All four of the prodigies have become captains after turning heads with the quality and quantity of their test runs. All four have experienced highs and lows — it was only a year ago when Smith struggled to hide his frustration after a horrible loss in Hobart led to something of an overhaul of Australian cricket.

But while Kohli and Williamson went blow for blow with Smith during century-laden tours of Australia in 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively, Root is yet to fire a shot in Australia. Smith is always keen to downplay talk of the rivalry between himself, Kohli, Root and Williamson but admitted in his recently-released biography that he always keeps an eye on their scores.

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Root, in the midst of his first Test tour since Alastair Cook handed over the captaincy, is facing the greatest test of his leadership to date.

The intensity of an Ashes tour is all-consuming. Andrew Flintoff, who led England to a 5-0 loss in 2006-07, referenced it this year while describing captaincy as "the worst job" he has ever had.

Root has posted two half-centuries in the current series to be England's leading run-scorer. The right-hander knows he must deliver far more imposing innings if his team are to become the second side in Ashes history to fight back from a 2-0 deficit and win a series.

Much has been made of Root's troubles kicking on after starts; just two of his past 13 Test scores of 50-plus have been converted into tons.

But the 26-year-old's record in Australia, where he was axed from the tourists' XI during Mitchell Johnson's rampage four years ago, also paints a frank picture.

Root's average from six tests in Australia is a tick over 30. Shrink the sample size to first innings in Australia and his average is 11.5. "I know I'm a good player, I know I'm going to score some runs out here," Root said after scoring nine and 67 in England's 120-run loss at Adelaide Oval.

Former England offspinner Graeme Swann feels captaincy is the cause of Root's recent issues. "I wish he didn't have the burden and could just be our best-ever batsman," Swann said. "This tour will be tough on him because that pressure will build and build."

The pressure in the Australian camp, meanwhile, is over whether they need an extra bowler in Perth.

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A looming selection showdown between Mitch Marsh and Peter Handscomb could be settled by the WACA wicket, with Marsh in the box seat to be recalled if the curator fails to wind the clock back for the famed venue's final Ashes test. Australia have a golden chance to regain the urn at a ground where England have recorded a single victory from 13 tests.

The WACA will no longer host high-profile cricket games beyond the contest that starts on Thursday because of the new construction across the Swan River. The WACA is synonymous with fire, brimstone and brutal spells of fast bowling that had batsmen ducking and weaving. But Australian fast bowlers have lamented its lack of sting recently.

If another flat deck is produced then selectors are expected to want Marsh's medium pace, knowing the risks involved with overcooking frontline quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. Handscomb would be the batsman to make way.

WA coach Justin Langer, who appointed Marsh captain earlier this year and has known the allrounder since he was a baby, has a biased view but even he is on the fence.

"I hope (Marsh) does play but I never like to change a winning team," Langer said. "That said, if there's any concerns about any of the bowlers and if the wicket looks anything like what we've played on in the last two (Sheffield Shield) games here then you'd definitely like to have that other fast bowling option.

"Spin bowling doesn't usually have the impact here that it does at other grounds, so maybe Nathan Lyon won't have the same impact he's had."

The root of Joe's problem
● Overall Test average: 53.05
● Test average in Australia: 30.36
● Test average (1st inns) in Australia: 11.5
● Averages more than 53 in India, UAE, South Africa, West Indies and England

How test captaincy has changed the big four:
● Steve Smith averaging 70.16 as captain, averaged 51.83 without the responsibility
● Virat Kohli averaging 67.44 as captain, averaged 41.13 without the responsibility
● Joe Root averaging 54.43 as captain, averaged 52.8 without the responsibility
● Kane Williamson averaging 56.84 as captain, averaged 49.23 without the responsibility

The heart of the matter:
"Root is so frustrated that he is not getting centuries when other top players like Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are. He knows he has to get big centuries," former England coach David Lloyd.


- AAP