Mark Wood is eager to inflict more torment on Marnus Labuschagne after dismissing the prolific Australia batter on a rain-affected first day of the fourth Ashes Test.

Australia closed on 126-3 after Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bat first at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday.

Only 46.5 overs were bowled due to poor weather, with rain preventing England from making further inroads.

Stuart Broad got rid of David Warner (30) for the 13th time in the longest format and James Anderson had Marcus Harris (38) caught by Joe Root in the slips before Labuschagne edged Wood through to Jos Buttler.

England fast bowler Wood hopes he can claim the scalp of Labuschagne time and again after sending the top-ranked Test batter in the world on his way for 28.

The paceman said: "I'm delighted to get Marnus because he's a top player. I know we've had this bowl fuller thing but I think we have to hit the wicket hard and make them play as much as we can.

"Thankfully I made Marnus play, it wasn't an easy ball to leave, and he managed to edge it.

"I'd love to have a Broad v Warner thing with him. Anybody would love that when they think they've got a chance to get someone out.

"The ball before, Marnus hit me for four so I just tried to zone in a bit more. I knew the ball before was loose but I got this one spot on.

"You want to test yourself against the best players. I've been a bit frustrated in that I've felt in good rhythm and have been bowling well in this series without getting the wickets I would have liked but to get big players like that out makes you very happy."

Wood revealed he had been suffering from illness ahead of the fourth Test as England battle to avoid a 5-0 whitewash.

He said: "I had a bit of a rough night but I managed to keep just enough energy for the day.

"I had a bit of a stomach problem but I'm hoping that with a good night's rest and some food inside me I'll be right as rain tomorrow."

Although England were frustrated by rain, Wood was delighted they got the opportunity to remove Harris and Labuschagne before play was called off for the day.

"It could have been a good opportunity for us to get another couple of wickets but after a stop-start sort of day to get a couple towards the close was a big deal," he added.

England struck twice late on a rain-affected opening day of the fourth Ashes Test at the SCG to get back into the contest on Wednesday.

Australia finished the first day on 126-3 with Steve Smith (6 not out) and Marnus Labuschagne (4 not out) at the crease after captain Pat Cummins won the delayed coin toss and elected to bat.

The hosts, who lead the series 3-0, had been firmly in control at 111-1 in the final session before veteran Jimmy Anderson (24-1 from 13 overs) and Mark Wood (31-1 from 10 overs) struck to dismiss opener Marcus Harris (38) and Test number one batsman Labuschagne (28) respectively.

Stuart Broad, back in the England side at the expense of Ollie Robinson, claimed the scalp of opener David Warner for 30 caught by Zak Crawley.

The opening session had been stop-start with rain delays seeing Australia go into lunch at 30-0, before adding another 26 runs until Broad found an edge from regular scalp Warner.

Rain fell shortly after Warner's dismissal leading to tea being taken after only 21.4 overs of play, but England got a crucial double strike in the final session before the weather intervened again.

Harris had been patient across more than three hours at the crease until Anderson drew an edge which Joe Root claimed at second slip.

England skipper Root introduced Mark Wood into the attack in the next over and dismissed Labuschagne caught behind by Jos Buttler.

Broad has the wood on Warner

Broad resumed his domination of Warner, dismissing him for the 13th time in Test cricket when he struck in the second session.

The right-arm fast bowler dismissed Warner seven times in the space of 104 balls during the 2019 Ashes in England, yet has been left out for two Tests in this series.

Sydney's rain woes

Only 46.5 overs were bowled on the first day at the SCG, which has been plagued by rain at recent Test matches at the venue.

In fact, Sydney has lost 26 days of Test cricket due to rain since 1877, which is significantly the most of any Australia venue and, while there was play, it was a frustrating opening day.

England manager director Ashley Giles has promised a widescale review where "everything will be on the table" after the Ashes thrashing, while defending head coach Chris Silverwood.

The tourists have been comfortably outclassed yet again by Australia down under, with the series defeat already confirmed heading into the penultimate Test in Sydney.

The dismantling of England's beleaguered red-ball side has led to questions over captain Joe Root, who received the backing of Ben Stokes on Monday, as well as Silverwood and Giles himself.

However, Giles – who removed Ed Smith as England's national selector in 2019 and promoted Silverwood to do both roles – believes wholesale systemic change is required as opposed to placing the blame on individuals.

"We will review the tour, obviously," he said to BBC's Test Match Special in an interview published on Tuesday.

"Everything will be on the table. We've got two Test matches left, the series might be lost, but we've got two matches we can make an impact on and we've got to try to."

"Being here now, in this position, I absolutely feel the responsibility of losing this Ashes series. Absolutely. And we all do. And we can only apologise and I know there will be a lot of emotion, a lot of anger about how we've lost it.

"But we know it's not an easy place to come. We can't kid ourselves; there's been a lot more going on in the last two years than just performance.

"Unless we look at more systemic change, a collective responsibility, and collective solutions, we can make whatever changes you want.

"You can change me, we can change the head coach and change the captain, but we're only setting up future leaders for failure. That's all we do. It's only pushing it down the road."

Giles also defended his decision to appoint Silverwood as chief selector amid suggestions Smith should have never been dismissed.

"One of the criticisms I had during my career was a lack of innovation, a lack of forward-thinking," he continued. "And now we're talking about going back to a system that is pretty antiquated and about 150 years old.

"In what other sports would we have someone sitting on the outside who would be telling the head coach what he should be doing?

"Yes, you build relationships, but ultimately it's a performance game. I think the head coach can still have those relationships in the dressing room. We've been accused in the past perhaps of being too cosy, too soft. I don't agree with that."

With Giles' managerial decisions put to one side, he discussed whether the County Championship format within England was hampering their red-ball side – a point many critics have already raised.

He added: "Are we creating the conditions in the game that will allow us to better prepare our cricketers to play in these conditions here? I'm not sure we are at the moment - what we play, when we play, on what we play.

"And again, that's a collective responsibility. It's up to us as the ECB, but also a conversation for us to have with the counties."

Silverwood heads a list of backroom staff absentees due to COVID-19 issues for the fourth Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which starts on Tuesday, and Giles believes the challenges the pandemic have thrown up also need to be considered.

"Performance has almost been the last thing we've had to think about, and that's a really sad situation," he said.

"How much time have we really had to sit back and think strategically? Not a lot. But have we got the game on? Have we tried to keep players fit? Well, yes, we tried. And the wellbeing issue is a massive one."

England have brought "caged tiger" Stuart Broad back into their team for the fourth Test against Australia in Sydney, after the veteran paceman revealed his frustration at being marginalised.

The 35-year-old, who has 526 Test wickets, has played in just one match during this series so far, with Australia's Steve Smith admitting that has surprised the hosts.

Broad told the Mail on Sunday that it had been "a very disappointing trip, one that has not met my personal expectations", but now he gets another chance to impress, albeit with the Ashes already lost.

Australia have steamrollered England in the opening three Tests, winning by nine wickets, then 275 runs, and last time out by an innings and 14 runs to clinch series victory.

Broad comes in at the SCG for Ollie Robinson, England's leading wicket-taker in the series so far. Like Chris Woakes, Robinson has been troubled by a shoulder problem, meaning both sit out this week's game.

England's stand-in head coach Graham Thorpe said: "We felt like it was too much of a risk to go in with a couple of lads who are carrying niggles. Therefore, it was right to bring Stuart back in.

"I hope I've got a couple of caged tigers coming into this match, Ben Stokes being one of them. Stuart is another.

"Getting the guys into the right frame of mind is important. I think they'll want to put in a performance for themselves and for the team. That's been our focus over the last few days.

"They'll want to do well. It's a wonderful cricket ground to play at. To have that fight and competitiveness, it's going to be very important this week."

Australia retain Scott Boland after his 6-7 second-innings return in Melbourne, where the hosts retained the urn, while Usman Khawaja replaces Travis Head in the middle order.

Head, like England head coach Chris Silverwood, is sidelined this week after a positive COVID-19 result.

With Josh Hazlewood short of full fitness, Australia have again put their trust in Boland, the 32-year-old Victorian whose Test debut went like a dream last time out.

Australia captain Pat Cummins said: "It's no secret that if Joshy Hazlewood was available then he was going to play. He's been just a brilliant bowler for us for a long period of time.

"We gave Josh every chance we could, just felt like he couldn't bowl at full tilt yesterday. We're still hoping he'll be right for [the fifth Test in] Hobart."

Cummins is pleased there is an opportunity to hand Boland a second cap, after speculation he could have become a one-Test wonder.

"It would have been a real shame to see Scotty not play this week after his efforts last week. I spent about five years sitting on one Test and I hated when people talked about it because I felt like I hadn't proven anything," Cummins said.

"He's bowling as well as he ever has, it's great that he can keep going from last week."


Fourth Test teams:

Australia: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland.

England: Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson.

Usman Khawaja is back in the Australia team for the fourth Ashes Test after being named as Travis Head's replacement.

Head misses out in the middle order after testing positive for COVID-19, giving Khawaja the opportunity to make his return to Test cricket with his country.

Batsman Khawaja last played back in August 2019, featuring for Australia at Headingley as England won the third Test of that Ashes series.

He had been named in the squad for the first two Tests of this series last month but did not see action in either Brisbane nor Adelaide.

Official #Ashes Update | Pat Cummins has confirmed one change to the Australian XI for the fourth Vodafone Ashes Test in Sydney.

Batter Usman Khawaja will replace Travis Head   pic.twitter.com/dR0EbWydTG

— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) January 3, 2022

Khawaja is the only change to the team that secured Australia the Ashes, with their victory in Melbourne giving the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead.

That means fast bowler Scott Boland retains his place in the side after a stunning Test debut in Melbourne.

He took 6-7 in the second innings as Boland laid waste to England's chances, though he was not a guaranteed pick for this week's action.

However, Josh Hazlewood is still unavailable to due the side strain he suffered in the first Test, giving Boland another opportunity to impress.

Joe Root insists there is still plenty to play for as far as England are concerned, despite having already lost the Ashes series to Australia after a dire first three Tests.

A chastening innings defeat in the third Test at the MCG gave the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead, with England now just playing for pride in the final two, starting with the fourth Test at the SCG in Sydney this week.

"You can dwell on what's happened so far, or we can look at the opportunities that present themselves in the immediate future," Root said. "That can be the making of some sides and the start of something, that's the approach we'll have to take."

The England captain – who received the backing of Ben Stokes on Monday – also insisted he will continue focusing on the job at hand as he dismissed topics surrounding his future.

"I need to make sure that my full focus is on these two games," he added. "First and foremost, I need to try to get the best out of the group, make sure we put in those performances we keep banging on about out there on the field.

"We'll worry about the captaincy at the end of the series. I've got two big games here to manage well."

Root will lead England as captain in a Test for the 60th time, overtaking the record of 59 set by his predecessor Alastair Cook.

England's preparation has been far from ideal, with four coaches – including Chris Silverwood – in isolation, with assistant coach Graham Thorpe set to lead in Silverwood's absence.

The fourth Test will be the Pink Test at the SCG, the traditional event to raise funds for the Jane McGrath Foundation, the charity co-founded by former Australia cricketer Glenn McGrath following his wife's breast cancer diagnosis in 2005.

The ex-bowler's attendance is in doubt, however, after he tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday.

England to decide whether to stick or twist

The tourists made some notable changes for the third Test that it would be fair to say did not have the desired effect, but whether they change things back is far from certain.

Rory Burns was dropped after scoring just 51 runs in four innings across the first two Tests at an average of 12.75, but fellow opener Haseeb Hameed has only managed 65 in six innings at an average of 10.83.

Zak Crawley replaced Burns, making just 17 runs in Melbourne, but for a player who has played so little cricket recently it might be considered more beneficial in the long-term to give him another outing.

Chris Woakes was also left out of the third Test after an expensive return of 149-1 with the ball in Adelaide, but the all-rounder could be brought back for his batting as his average of 26.25 is the third best England have in this series.

Stuart Broad could come back in having been a surprising omission for the first and third Tests, as referenced by Steve Smith in the lead up to the clash in Sydney.

Only two players in English history can better Broad's career record of 120 Test wickets against Australia.

 

Options not a problem for Aussies

While England are desperately looking for players to put together a competitive side, Australia are wrestling with the conundrum of whether to leave out a bowler who took 6-7 in the second innings of the last Test.

Scott Boland had a Test debut to remember in his home-ground of the MCG, taking England wickets in the second innings with astonishing regularity, but with Josh Hazlewood possibly being available again after injury, Boland could be the one to make way.

Travis Head will miss out after testing positive for COVID-19 and is likely to be replaced by Usman Khawaja. Head has somewhat surprisingly been the hosts' top batsman in the series so far, scoring 248 runs in four innings at an average of 62.00.

There have been some calls for spinner Mitchell Swepson to be given a game in preparation for Australia's tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka later this year, but the SCG has not always been a kind pitch for spin.

England captain Joe Root urged his team to respond in "disjointed and challenging circumstances" ahead of the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney.

The tourists have already succumbed to yet another series loss Down Under before a ball has even been bowled in the penultimate Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, having been outclassed in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

England's task has further mounted heading into the next Test, which starts on Tuesday, with head coach Chris Silverwood leading a list of absentees from the backroom staff due to COVID-19 issues.

Alongside the coaching shortage, some local net bowlers for the England side have also been withdrawn due to coronavirus complications, but Root insisted the seeming crisis is an opportunity for his team to unite.

"It has made things disjointed and challenging but it is a chance to come together," Root told BBC Sport.

"We're trying to manage it as best we can. In terms of practice, it's obviously going to look very different.

"We've all just got to be good human beings, good professionals, help each other out where we can and try and get the best possible prep going into these last two games.

"Whether it be putting pride back into the badge, whether it be making sure that we get Test Championship points, [and] for individuals making sure that they're pushing hard to cement their spots in the team. There's a huge amount to play for this group of players.

"We've got to stay tight, we've got to stay together. And we've got to put in a performance on one of the great Test venues in world cricket."

 

Root enjoyed an outstanding 2021 on the personal front, finishing with 1,708 runs at an average of 61 – the third-best haul in a calendar year, only behind Vivian Richards (1,710 in 1976) and Mohammad Yousuf (1,788 in 2006). 

Indeed, Root scored 26 per cent of all of England's runs last year – the highest proportion of any player for their respective teams in 2021 – but questions have been raised over the 31-year-old's captaincy credentials.

Nevertheless, Root – who received the backing of Ben Stokes earlier on Monday – ensures he will continue focusing on the job ahead as he dismissed topics surrounding his future.

"I need to make sure that my full focus is on these two games," he added. "First and foremost, I need to try to get the best out of the group, make sure we put in those performances we keep banging on about out there on the field.

"We'll worry about the captaincy at the end of the series. I've got two big games here to manage well."

Australia vice-captain Steve Smith has claimed to be "surprised" at the lack of action afforded to England fast bowler Stuart Broad during the visitors' dire Ashes campaign.

Broad was dropped for the emphatic defeat in Melbourne on Boxing Day that saw Australia retain the urn after just three matches of a one-sided series.

Only two players in English history can better Broad's career record of 120 Test wickets against Australia, and the 35-year-old vented his frustration at his recent lack of influence last weekend, also casting doubt over his Test cricket future.

England's selections have faced fierce scrutiny after Australia racked up an unassailable 3-0 lead, with all-rounder Ben Stokes publicly denying he has any desire to succeed the under-pressure Joe Root as captain.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the fourth Test in Sydney, Smith said of Broad's absence: "We have been surprised. There have probably been two wickets that would have suited him well [in the first and third Tests, in Brisbane and Melbourne].

"He bowled well in Adelaide, and he's always been a good contest for me. He's got me out a few times, I've scored runs off him. I think it's been a decent battle.

"He and Jimmy [Anderson] are two world-class performers, they have been for a long time. Maybe we'll see them out here together this week, I'm not sure."

Smith, who has averaged 31.75 across the series, has turned his attention to putting in a strong individual performance in the penultimate test, as the hosts target a whitewash victory.

"It's been a little while since I've scored a hundred, but I got close in Adelaide," Smith said.

Smith's 93 runs in Adelaide's second Test was his highest score of the series to date, and the 32-year-old is looking to roll back the clock after averaging over 100 in each of the past two Ashes series, earning a reputation as England's tormentor. 

"We've played on some pretty bowler-friendly wickets in the first three Tests, and it's been tough to get into a rhythm," he noted.

"But hopefully this week I can spend a lot of time out there, get a big one and help us continue to have success."

England head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19 during his team's dismal Ashes tour.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed Silverwood, who was already due to miss the fourth Test, had joined the number of positive cases in and around the team camp.

It emerged after the Melbourne Boxing Day Test that a member of Silverwood's family had tested positive.

That set up the possibility that Silverwood himself may have come into sufficiently close contact to be infected.

Silverwood was forced to isolate, ruling him out of the Sydney Cricket Ground clash with Australia, which begins Down Under on Wednesday. Now, a positive test means he must wait to rejoin the team.

England are expecting him to be available again to take the reins for the series closer in Hobart, starting on January 14. In the meantime, batting coach Graham Thorpe is stepping up to direct team operations.

In a widely reported statement, the ECB said: "England men's head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Silverwood has been isolating in Melbourne since December 30 following a positive test from one of his family members. He will remain in isolation until January 8.

"Silverwood is asymptomatic and is fully vaccinated. He is expected to return to the England party in Hobart ahead of the fifth Ashes Test."

The news comes after England great Graham Gooch expressed dismay at England's inability to be competitive in Australia.

They have already lost the series, after suffering heavy defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, with Silverwood's position coming under scrutiny.

Speaking to Stats Perform, former captain and opener Gooch said: "I'm bitterly disappointed because losing a Test match is one thing, losing a series is one thing.

"But, what's really concerning for me is the lack of competitiveness of our team against Australia not only in the match at Melbourne, but in the previous two matches. 

"They've outplayed us, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded us in all three Tests, in most of the sessions.

"We've had a couple of half sessions, which we've done well with Joe Root and Dawid Malan scoring a few runs, Jimmy Anderson bowling a brilliant spell to help England dismiss Australia at the MCG for 267. But apart from that, we've been lacking."

Off-spinner Nathan Lyon says there are no dead rubbers as Australia chases a 5-0 whitewash of England in the 2021-22 Ashes.

Australia leads the series 3-0 after three dominant victories ahead of the fourth Ashes Test starting on Wednesday at the SCG.

There has been speculation about the make-up of the Australian side given they have already secured a series victory with dilemmas on Josh Hazlewood's fitness and Scott Boland's place along with talk of a second spinner in Mitch Swepson.

Lyon, who has taken 12 wickets in the three Tests, insisted Australia were determined to pursue victory and pick the best side possible.

"There's no more dead rubbers - and I've never considered them when you wear a baggy green - firstly because there's the World Test Championship and we want to go 5-0 up," Lyon told reporters on Sunday.

"If the conditions suit then we pick the best team to win that Test to make sure we keep moving forward. The Ashes for me is the pinnacle but I'd love to be part of a Test Championship final to state our case for the number one team in the world."

Australia missed out on the World Test Championship final last year, finishing third behind winners New Zealand and India. The Aussies have won the past two Ashes on home soil 4-0 and 5-0 respectively.

Lyon endorsed fellow spinner Swepson, who is set to get Test opportunities in 2022 with tours of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India to come.

"I love bowling in partnership with spinners for sure," Lyon said. "I've done it a lot in subcontinent conditions so if the opportunity does come to play two spinners I know we'll really enjoy building that partnership. We've been doing it in the nets but it's a lot different."

Hazlewood, who has missed the past two Tests with a side injury, is expected to train fully with the group on Monday and could replace Boland who took 7-6 in the second innings of the third Test.

England star Jos Buttler insisted that he has no intentions to retire from Test cricket despite a crushing Ashes series loss to Australia.

Buttler declared he would play without fear ahead of his first red-ball series Down Under but has since mustered just 96 runs from the opening three outings, averaging just 19.2 against Pat Cummins' relentless bowling attack.

The wicketkeeper is not the only England batter to have struggled, given Chris Silverwood's side have already succumbed to a series defeat against Australia before a ball has even been bowled in the penultimate Test in Sydney.

After Quinton de Kock announced he was hanging up his South Africa whites to focus on his young family and limited-overs cricket, questions were raised whether the multi-format Buttler would follow suit and arrive at a similar conclusion.

But 31-year-old knocked back those suggestions on Saturday as he expressed his commitment to the longest form of the game, despite England's beleaguered Test team struggling recently.

He responded to reporters questioning his plans to continue playing red-ball cricket: "It's certainly my ambition. I don't think I'd have put as much into it as I have done if it wasn't.

"I have fantastic family support – they're very supportive of me and my career, and make a lot of sacrifices for that. It's certainly maintained my drive and ambition to try and play [Test cricket]."

 

He added: "That's Quinton's own personal situation. As a huge fan of his, I'm disappointed that he's at that stage. I love watching him bat, keep wicket and play Test cricket. 

"I commend him for making a decision that's right for him. But I feel I've got that support and in a place where I want to try to make it work."

Amid speculation over Silverwood's future following another thrashing to the old enemy Australia, Buttler and his team-mates now have the chance to prove their worth in the final two Tests in early January.

And Buttler reassured that all of the England camp are pulling in the same direction as they look to play for pride with their series out of their reach.

"One thing is we're massively in it all together," he continued. "We live it all together and we want to play well for each other. It's frustrating for Chris he's not here with us [due to COVID-19] – another complication of the tour – but we're certainly very united.

"There is an overriding sense of disappointment and frustration with the situation we've found ourselves in. We certainly don’t want to be a team to lose 5-0."

England have a chance to right some of their wrongs when they next challenge Australia on Tuesday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Only so much of the blame for England's poor Ashes series can lie with captain Joe Root, according to former skipper Graham Gooch.

Australia have already retained the Ashes with two Tests to spare, having established an unassailable 3-0 lead, dominating the opening three matches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Root has been one of the only England batters to perform well, going on to become the leading run-scorer as the nation's Test captain, a role he has fulfilled since 2017.

He will lead England out for a record 60th time in the fourth Test in Sydney, overtaking Alastair Cook's tally of 59, while 26 per cent of all the team's runs were scored by Root in 2021, with the Yorkshireman plundering 1,708 in total.

However, England have averaged just 187.5 with the bat in six innings, failing to score more than 300 in any of the first three Tests down under, and Root's leadership abilities have come under scrutiny.

But after Chris Woakes backed the 31-year-old to stay on, Gooch has also offered his support to Root, but suggested the skipper may need to take a more realistic view on his team's scenario.

"I like Joe a lot. He's a brilliant player; a world-class player. He's not a bad captain; I don't think it’s his fault," Gooch, who scored 8,900 Test runs for England between 1975 and 1995, told Stats Perform.

"But to keep saying we’re close to Australia, that we can feel it coming, and one good session or one good day is going to turn it around. I don't think that’s going to wash really. We've been comprehensively beaten.

"I think it's a bit galling for us ex-pros and captains to hear."

Gooch, fourth on the all-time list for runs scored as England's Test captain, also paid tribute to the victorious Australia, whose strong displays he feels have played a major part in the tourists' slump.

Asked whether he believed the outcome of the Series was down to the hosts' performances or a poor showing by England, he said: "I think it's a bit of both.

"I think you've got Australia doing what they do best. They're aggressive, they're ruthless. If they smell blood, they capitalise on it.

"It's not because England have been so poor; they have not allowed England to be successful."

England's lack of competitiveness during the ongoing Ashes series is a cause for huge concern, according to former opening batsman Graham Gooch.

Australia have already retained the Ashes with two Tests to spare, having established an unassailable 3-0 lead.

The hosts have taken full advantage against their lacklustre opponents, dominating the opening three Tests in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Gooch, who scored 8,900 Test runs for England between 1975 and 1995, expressed his disappointment with the visitors’ performances thus far.

And he feels it is the manner of the defeats sparks the biggest cause for concern.

"I'm bitterly disappointed because losing a Test match is one thing, losing a series is one thing," he told Stats Perform. 

"But, what's really concerning for me is the lack of competitiveness of our team against Australia not only in the match at Melbourne, but in the previous two matches. 

"They've outplayed us, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded us in all three Tests, in most of the sessions. 

"We've had a couple of half sessions, which we've done well with Joe Root and Dawid Malan scoring a few runs, Jimmy Anderson bowling a brilliant spell to help England dismiss Australia at the MCG for 267. 

"But apart from that, we've been lacking."

Gooch also refused to point the finger of blame at squad selection, insisting England undoubtedly have the resources to produce the goods.

"I don't think you can argue with the selection as a squad. They've got the squad there," he added. "I can't see any glaring errors. 

"The only thing you possibly could do is you could revisit some of the players that you've had in the past and say: 'are they better than some of these younger ones?'

"You can never argue against putting youth in the team because that's your future if they come in, and they do quite well, hopefully you've got a player for, let's say, a decade."

Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

Australian batsman Travis Head has been ruled out of the fourth Ashes Test and returning a positive test for Covid-19.

Cricket Australia confirmed that the 28-year-old is asymptomatic and will not fly with the squad to Sydney on Friday for the fourth Ashes Test due to start at the SCG on January 5.

The remainder of the Australian squad, their families and the team's support staff have undergone PCR and RAT tests on Friday and are still planning to travel to Sydney on Friday.

A Cricket Australia spokesperson said: “As part of our testing procedures, we are PCR testing players, their families and our support staff daily. Unfortunately, Travis returned a positive Covid-19 result earlier today. Thankfully, he is asymptomatic at this stage. We anticipate that he will be available to play in the fifth men’s Ashes Test in Hobart.

“We are grateful to our exceptional medical staff for all the work they have done throughout this series and we will continue to work with and support the players, their families and staff from both teams.”

Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have joined the Australian squad as additional cover as a precautionary measure, although Usman Khawaja appears most likely to replace Head in the XI.

On Friday, there was a huge jump in confirmed Covid-19 cases in Sydney, were the fourth Test will be played, with 21,151 infections diagnosed up from 12,226 on Thursday.

The Boxing Day Test earlier this week was jeopardized after positive cases within the England camp, while Third Test match referee David Boon tested positive on Thursday.

Australia captain Pat Cummins missed the second Test in Adelaide after being a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Head becomes the first player to miss a Test in the Ashes series due to testing positive as Covid-19 closes in on the series.

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