Ben Stokes reveals his role in succeeding Joe Root as England captain


When Ben Stokes wants something, he doesn’t stand on ceremony. Even if that something is as big as the England Test captaincy.

It was not necessarily something he was willing to share but besieged by questions – about his suitability for the job, its shelf life and how he intends to cope with a transition from a player who leads the way via actions to one who calls the shots – during his unveiling, he jumped onto the front foot to reveal he was proactive in the process that led to him succeeding Joe Root.

Rather than await contact from Rob Key, the new managing director of cricket, he decided to take matters into his own hands and make his ambition known.

Ben Stokes has revealed the role he played in replacing Joe Root as England captain

Stokes said he called Rob Key to discuss the role amid speculation over Root's successor

Stokes said he called Rob Key to discuss the role amid speculation over Root’s successor

Leaning forward in his chair at Durham’s Emirates Riverside, a place he has called home for half his life, the 30-year-old said: ‘After the news about Joe and speculation about who was going to do it, I phoned Rob a few days later and said: ”I just want to make you aware, if the opportunity is there I’m ready for it.” Just to stop any ‘will he, won’t he,’ talk.’

It is an episode reminiscent of three years ago when, stirred by the belief it would be beneficial for the team as they headed into the Ashes, he sent the ECB chief executive Tom Harrison a text message requesting the vice-captaincy – removed from him as a punishment for involvement in the infamous Bristol street fracas in 2017 – be returned.

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Although Key later said he would have chosen Stokes if there were 10 other options, the truth is there was a lack of viable candidates to stand against him and that the major opposition to the verification of England’s 81st captain was a concern of the overspill caused by adding further courses to a pretty full plate.

One need cast the mind back only a few months for a reminder of this particular job’s 24-7 demands. In the build-up to the Ashes, colleagues spoke of their admiration for Root, who invested hours of energy making sure England’s touring party had as much freedom as possible under Australia’s strict Covid protocols.

Stokes was unavailable for Root to lean on at the time due to the all-rounder’s mental health break but advocates official deputies, for both support and their own development, and ideally would like to make his own appointment before the first Test against New Zealand on June 2.

‘In terms of vice-captain…there are so many I could look at,’ Stokes said. ‘What I do think needs to be considered is, should it be one of the more senior players or am I going to pick one of the younger players who we can give extra responsibility. 

‘I think I was 24, 25 and we have so many players at that sort of age. It would almost be stupid not to give them that extra responsibility when we want to see this next generation and give these younger guys opportunity to perform for long enough in an England jumper.’

Stokes’ words appear to hint at Zak Crawley, a player who has made a strong impression on the group with his work ethic, demeanour and obvious natural talent. A sticking point is a lack of form and whether he can justify his place. Since making his second Test hundred at the start of the West Indies series in March, he has one 50 in 10 first-class innings.

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Stokes was vice-captain under Root and will be looking at appointing his own second-in-command

Zak Crawley is among the possible candidates to become vice-captain under Stokes

Zak Crawley is among the possible candidates to become vice-captain under Stokes

If there is a delay, Stokes does have other sources of advice at hand. ‘I’ll be using Joe. Being captain of England is a completely different kettle of fish. But not just Joe, I’ve got so many senior players in that dressing room it would be stupid not to get their opinion. I don’t want to just come in and it be ‘this is Ben’s way; this is how we’re doing it.’ Everyone’s opinion matters. I have my ideas and things I really want to push, but I need a dressing room that is going to follow me. So, I feel like allowing people to be heard and to speak is a good place to start.’

A new selection structure is yet to be created but Stokes will be part of it (Root was not in his final throes) and will ditch the rotation policy that contributed to a woefully underwhelming return of one win in 17 matches.

Not that he is averse to making tough calls. As he reminds us on the eve of recalls for Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, he was the one who delivered the news when the latter was originally dropped, with Root on paternity leave, at the start of the 2020 summer.

Stokes is set to bring star bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad back into the Test team

Stokes is set to bring star bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad back into the Test team

‘I have a firm belief that honesty is the best policy and I wanted to be the one to tell him because if I didn’t, if I’d left it for someone else to do, then all the respect Broady has for me would have just gone straight out of the window,’ Stokes said.

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‘He was upset by the decision and that was completely the right reaction to see from someone like that. But that didn’t affect us. That was a decision made about our sporting careers and he had every right to challenge me but once that’s over and done with that’s a completely different relationship to the one you have with the person as a friend.

‘What I would hate is for people to be out of my company and be like ‘f***ing hell, he’s changed a lot since he’s been captain.’ I don’t want that.’

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Stokes will be hoping the captaincy does not affect his performance with the bat and ball

Stokes will be hoping the captaincy does not affect his performance with the bat and ball

One relationship that will be crucial, as Stokes begins a quest to haul England out of the trough of their lowest Test points rating since 1995, is that of captain and coach.

Applications for the split roles officially closed on Friday but Key has been busy working on a quick Test appointment with Gary Kirsten expected to be the successful candidate.

Whoever is chosen, however, under the leadership of Stokes it is unlikely the team will be allowed to take any backward steps.



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