By Ian Ransom
ADELAIDE (Reuters) - Thrown into Jonathan Trott's vacant number three position, Joe Root led from the front to restore some pride for a wounded England on day four of the second Ashes test on Sunday, savouring a war of words with Australia's frustrated fielders.
In England's paltry first innings of 172, Root was one of only three English batsmen not to lose his wicket to a marauding Mitchell Johnson, and he also defied the red-hot Australian seamer in an unbeaten 26 in the second innings of the first test defeat in Brisbane.
Responding to Johnson's withering stares, throat-balls and taunts with sweet smiles, the cherubic-faced 22-year-old held on stubbornly for nearly four-and-half hours to compile a battling 87 on a hot, overcast day at Adelaide Oval, helping his team stave off another humiliating defeat within four days.
England were 247-6 at the close, with Matt Prior (31 not out) and Stuart Broad (22 not out) at the crease, still 284 runs shy of their victory target and facing a Mission Impossible to save the match on a fifth-day wicket.
Precious little has gone right for England on this tour to date, but Root's endurance and grit on Sunday raised hope, at least, that Trott's loss might be well covered.
"Everyone watching and playing knew that we were in a battle and we weren't going to lie down and we were going to show a bit of fight and a bit of courage and be there at the end of the day," Root told reporters.
"That's going to have to continue for the rest of the series.
"To me if we're losing test matches regardless of your scores, you're not going to pride yourself on your performance.
"We've got to make sure for the rest of the series we front up and we put big totals on the scoreboard. Obviously, we've got a lot of good things we can take from today."
Getting past 200 was a small victory for England, who had not done so in their three previous innings, and Australia's hopes of wrapping up proceedings quickly to enjoy a longer rest before the third test in Perth were frustrated.
The wickets fell, but not in bunches, and the frustration began to tell on Michael Clarke's side as they amped up their verbal barrages.
Debutant Ben Stokes, who lasted 90 balls for his 28 runs, appeared to be rattled and was caught behind off the bowling of Ryan Harris a few balls after some choice words from Johnson.
Root, however, played a straight bat throughout his 194 ball innings.
"You want to play hard cricket and it's Ashes cricket. You'd expect that," he said of the sledging.
"You'd be disappointed if there wasn't a bit of rivalry and I think it makes entertaining cricket to watch and it's certainly good to be involved in that out there in the middle.
"You know you're in a battle and have got to front up and fight for your country.
"I think they're just trying to get under my skin and find a way to help get me out. I'd expect any team to do that, not just Australia. It's good confrontation. I like to get in a battle with opposition." (Editing by Patrick Johnston)