England unfazed by Australian banter ahead of Ashes opener

SYDNEY (AP) England cricket captain Joe Root has dismissed suggestions his team ”feared” Australia’s fast bowlers, saying his players were fully prepared for a hostile Ashes series.

Root said some English players had been taken aback by the level of aggression shown by their hosts when they lost 5-0 on their last tour of Australia four years ago, but insisted they were ready this time.

”Last time that caught us out, but we are a bit wiser this time,” Root said Tuesday on the eve of England’s third and last warm-up match for the first test in Brisbane.

”It’s making sure we are absolutely prepared for any scenario and absolutely ready for that first game, whatever they do throw at us,” Root said. ”We expect it to be hostile. We expect it to be a very loud and rowdy atmosphere at the Gabba.

”We are in a good place and ready for that. We have got our heads around what to expect.”

Root also brushed off suggestions the Australians planned to specifically target him after he managed just one half-century and averaged less than 28 with the bat on his previous tour of Australia in 2013-14.

In 2015, Root made amends with two centuries and an average of more than 57 as England bounced back on home soil to regain the Ashes.

”I’ve heard a lot of chat about targeting me, in particular,” Root said. ”From our point of view, we’ll be targeting every single one of them – we won’t be singling any one out. But you want that competitive element to it, and those little in-house rivalries.”

England is unbeaten in its two warm-up matches so far in Australia and aiming to continue its bright start during the four-day game against a Cricket Australia XI, starting in Townsville on Wednesday.

With the first test starting on Nov. 23, the tourists have made no secret of their plans, sticking with the same top six batsmen they used in the previous game. Mark Stoneman will again open with Alastair Cook, with James Vince batting at three ahead of Root.

Dawid Malan comes in at five with wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow at six. Allrounder Moeen Ali returns at seven.

Cricket Australia on Tuesday said it would announce a squad for the first two tests on Friday, amid growing speculation about the makeup of the team.

Several positions appear undecided with most questions surrounding who will open the batting with Dave Warner, who will bat at No. 6 and who will be picked as wicketkeeper.

Matt Renshaw is the incumbent opener but has been struggling for runs recently while Cameron Bancroft, his main rival for the job, enhanced his credentials with a double century on Tuesday.

The No. 6 slot is shaping as a choice between the hard-hitting Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright, while Matthew Wade and Peter Nevilleare are vying for the wicketkeeping duties.

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