Joe Root stood down as England captain after a series defeat in the West Indies last month left England with just one win from their last 17 Tests; Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad are considered leading contenders to replace Root
Saturday 16 April 2022 10:26, UK
Former England captains Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain believe Ben Stokes is the "obvious" candidate to take on the role following Joe Root's resignation as Test skipper.
Root announced his resignation on Friday after a series defeat in the West Indies last month left England with just one win from their last 17 Tests.
Stokes, who served as vice-captain under Root, is the favourite to take on the role, but as recently as January said he had "never really had an ambition" to be skipper.
The 30-year-old took a six-month break from cricket last year to rest an injured finger and prioritise his mental wellbeing, before returning to play in England's tours of Australia and the West Indies.
Stuart Broad, 35, has been touted as a short-term option for the role, despite having been selected for just three of England's five Ashes Tests in Australia and omitted from the squad for the tour of the West Indies.
Atherton, who captained England from 1993 to 1998, believes that Root's decision to stand down rather than be sacked as skipper will make Stokes more comfortable with taking on the role.
You've got to pick somebody who is worth his place in the side. I think the days are long gone where you could have a Mike Brearley-type figure, who wouldn't necessarily be a first-choice pick. Just because of the scrutiny, you need to be worth your place in the side, so Ben Stokes is the obvious candidate.
I think what helps is that Joe Root has stepped down of his own accord. The one great defining characteristic of Ben Stokes is loyalty, and he's very loyal to Joe Root as his number two, and very good friends with him. He will feel a lot easier about accepting the job, if indeed it comes his way, given that Root has stepped down of his own accord rather than been pushed out of the door. I think that helps the accession for Stokes if it comes.
One of the great things about Joe Root is the way that he kept his own personal form up under the scrutiny and under the pressure and the demands of captaincy. He's a world class player, he's one of England's greatest ever batters and he kept his own personal performances - even during the dog days of 2021 when the team was sliding to defeat after defeat - his personal performances were outstanding.
Whether Ben Stokes, if it comes his way, can do that is an unknown. It didn't sit well with other all-rounders that have come before him like (Ian) Botham and (Andrew) Flintoff, but that's not to say that it won't sit well with him, but you just never quite know until you have a go.
There was very clearly, after the 2015 World Cup in Australia, a desire to put England's white-ball cricket on a better footing, and that has had some kind of an impact on the Test team, and obviously Covid has impacted that as well - that's been a double whammy and it's led to a schedule that is frankly unsustainable.
Joe Root can't be held responsible for those things - as a captain you're really responsibly for what happens under your watch with the team, and there were lots of things happening in Australia and lately where they were not getting it right. They were not getting it right with selection, decisions on the toss and strategy on the field.
All those things you can lay at the captain's door, but what you can't lay at the captain's door is the structure of English cricket, the schedules, the state of the first-class game, the way that the governing body has not looked after and cared for first-class cricket, which has meant you're not getting the level and quality of players through to the Test team.
Hussain, who captained England from 1999-2003, says Broad would be a viable short-term option in the event Stokes didn't want to become skipper.
For me the obvious candidate is Ben Stokes. People say, 'Oh, Ben Stokes', do you know what happened to Flintoff and Botham? Ben Stokes is not Flintoff and he's not Botham, don't judge him by how other people have done.
Stokes has done some phenomenal things as a cricketer and has a very smart cricket brain. He showed that in the World Cup final, he showed that at Headingley, the way he works through difficult times. He showed that when he's taken over occasionally from Joe Root.
The difficult thing for Stokes is the point I made about the toll it takes on you as a captain. You have to be in the right place mentally and physically.
Obviously, Ben's been through some issues mentally off the field of late, and if I was the new managing director of cricket, the very first journey I would be making would be to go and have a cup of coffee with Ben and ask him where he is with his game, with his life away from his game to make sure he's in the right place.
From what I see, the players hang on every word Stokes says in that dressing room. He doesn't even have to say anything, and they look in his direction to see his reaction. He's so well respected in that dressing room and Root would love playing under Stokes. Root is the sort of guy would play under anyone, but Root would give his everything for Stokes.
If Stokes is not in the right place, then short-term Stuart Broad has an excellent cricket brain, is a real fighter, a real competitor, and he's got a point to prove after what's happened in the last few months and we know what Broad is like when he's got a point to prove.
Pat Cummins has led Australia as a bowler brilliantly, so in the short term, I can see Broad doing a similar thing.
There are not that many candidates, the other option is to go outside the side and go down the Graeme Smith route that South Africa did, go outside the side and look in county cricket, but for me Stokes and Broad stand out.
Former England batter Nick Compton says he would insert Broad as captain with a view to Stokes taking on the role in future.
The important thing is that whoever is captain makes the team. Any talk of players who haven't earned their stripes in the team, I don't think is helpful. The guy that I put forward is Stuart Broad, I think he's the right man in this difficult phase.
He has the experience and that winning mentality. He's perhaps in the twilight of his career; he's seen a lot and he's been through a lot and in the last year or so. We've seen a guy who has upped his own game, along with Jimmy Anderson.
He's the type of guy who could come together with the new coach and put down a marker for how this England team needs to move forwards. He potentially won't be there for a long period of time, but I think he's the right man.
The one thing you can say about Stuart Broad, is when you need him, he stepped up. There's no doubt about that.
I think Ben would be an outstanding leader. He's clearly been an excellent support to Joe Root, he's an outstanding player and he makes the team, which is important.
I think he's had a lot on his plate recently, he was out and probably rushed back into the Ashes a little bit too quickly. He's finding his feet again. We need Ben Stokes performing on all levels; bowling, batting and being the brilliant fielder that he is.
I think it's a little bit early right now. I would like to see Ben go out there and just keep performing for England, get himself in a good place because we know when his mind is on it, he's arguably one of the best cricketers in the world.
I don't think it's the right time for him to take on this responsibility.
Stokes, along with James Anderson and Stuart Broad were among several of Root's past and present team-mates to pay tribute on social media.
Ben Stokes: "Been a great ride with you my friend.
"Watching one of my great mates lead us all out on to the field was a privilege. You have given everything to English cricket and we all want to say thank you for your sacrifices and hard work."
James Anderson: "It's been a pleasure to be part of Joe Root's England side.
"The way he's managed to balance the responsibilities and stresses of leading the team while also becoming one of world's greatest batters has been extraordinary.
"He is an incredible ambassador for the sport and I can't wait to see him back out in the middle where I'm certain he'll cement himself as one of the all-time greats."
Stuart Broad: "Most Test wins as England captain and a great human being."