‘Honoured’ Ben Stokes ‘excited’ to lead England after taking on Test captaincy
Ben Stokes says he is “honoured” to be handed England’s Test captaincy and has already made it clear that fast bowling greats James Anderson and Stuart Broad are part of his plans.
Stokes inherits the role from Joe Root, who quit earlier this month after five years and a record 64 games in the job, and has been charged with reinvigorating the fortunes of a red-ball side that has managed just one victory in its last 17 attempts.
The 30-year-old all-rounder served as Root’s deputy, leading the side once before in 2020 to become England’s 81st Test skipper, and was the overwhelming favourite to take charge as soon as the vacancy appeared.
Stokes, who became one of the country’s most celebrated athletes with his stunning performances in the 2019 World Cup and Ashes, has been a loyal lieutenant to Root and made a point of praising his friend and predecessor in a short statement.
“I am honoured to be given the chance to lead the England Test team. This is a real privilege and I’m excited about getting started this summer,” he said.
“I want to thank Joe for everything he has done for English cricket and for always being a great ambassador for the sport all across the world. He has been a massive part of my development as a leader in the dressing room and he will continue to be a key ally for me in this role.”
Stokes was chosen by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s new men’s managing director Rob Key, who travelled to Durham for face-to-face talks that left him in no doubt about his readiness to accept the challenge.
“It was an easy decision, but it would been a lot tougher obviously if he wasn’t keen,” said Key.
“He’s not someone with a massive ego who is thinking ‘what’s best for Ben Stokes?’. He genuinely thinks that he’s the best person to lead England forward and I agree.
“I talked to a lot of people that know him, a lot of people around him, and a lot of people that he trusts as well. Every single one of them said that they felt he’d be an excellent captain.
“We sat down and we aligned in our thinking, how we see the game. I couldn’t do it as a player – but it’s how I wanted to play the game. He does it. He epitomises everything our red-ball team needs.
“I just want him to go out and lead from the front and I think he’ll do that. He’s got a lot of compassion, he’s got a lot of empathy and when you talk to him he’s always talking about other people around him and what’s best for the side.”
Stokes’ reign begins with a tricky challenge on June 2, with a Lord’s Test against current world champions New Zealand. And while it is early days, there is one important conclusion that has already been agreed.
Both Stokes and Key appear to concur that the decision to jettison Anderson and Broad in the West Indies, a call ostensibly made by Sir Andrew Strauss in his interim management position but signed off by Root, was a mistake.
The pair, who boast 1,177 Test wickets between them, were left to stew at home while England laboured to a 1-0 defeat in the Caribbean. Now, with a change of regime, the welcome mat has been laid out once again.
“I rang Jimmy and Broady when I got announced and said to them ‘for my money, you guys are available for selection for that first Test’,” said Key.
“Then when I met Ben the other day, one of the first things he said was ‘I want the best team out there and Jimmy and Brody are a part of that. If they’re the best bowlers, then they play’.
“I said I agree and then we moved on. There’s not much to say other than if you’re one of the best bowlers in the country then you play. We don’t need to tell Jimmy and Broady what they need to do and how they need to prepare for a Test match. They’ve got a big part to play.”
It is only nine months since Stokes took a hiatus from the game to look after his mental health as well as rehabilitating a badly broken finger, but Key is confident that he is ready for the additional burdens of the post.
As a three-format player with a new emphasis on the five-day game, workload management will be a crucial factor and one that Key is planning for.
“I didn’t (have concerns about Stokes) once I’d spoken to people who know him better than I do, some of his closest people,” he said.
“I do think we have to be smart with that. At the moment Ben’s absolute focus is Test cricket, he will tell you that. But he can’t captain the side obviously if he is not fit.
“So we will work out a way to make sure he can drive the Test side forward as much as possible. If he misses white-ball cricket at times, that is absolutely fine.”
Stokes will hold his first press conference on Tuesday at his home ground in Durham, eschewing the traditional Lord’s appearance as he prepares for his first-class comeback against Worcestershire later that week.