Ben Stokes backs Joe Root and says he has ‘no ambition’ to be England captain
Ben Stokes has thrown his full support behind Joe Root and Chris Silverwood, insisting any blame for England’s Ashes defeat should be shared around the tour party. The all-rounder has also stated that he has no designs on the Test captaincy himself.
Stokes is arguably the only viable candidate to replace Root should a change of leadership occur after a one-sided series which Australia lead 3-0 going into the fourth Test starting on Wednesday in Sydney. With a fifth Test in Hobart still to come – not a given as Covid-19 continues to loom over proceedings – others are simply playing for their spots.
But while Root has now overseen 59 Tests, the point where a jaded Alastair Cook ended his record stint in charge in early 2017, Stokes is not expecting a similar outcome yet. He also had words of encouragement for Silverwood that were doubtless welcome after it was confirmed the head coach has the virus and will not return until next week.
“I don’t sense that at all with Joe,” Stokes said. “He’s brought this team a long way. He’s done some great things. Obviously this series hasn’t gone too well. Not from a captaincy point of view but from a team and results point of view. Unfortunately, the captain and coach bear the scrutiny for that but there are 10 other guys out there in the field beside the captain.
“At the end of the day, the most important people’s opinions are those guys in the dressing room and [Root and Silverwood] have our thorough support.
“Captaincy is more than about setting fields, picking the team, making decisions out in the middle. A captain is someone you play for. Joe Root is someone I always want to play for. Chris Silverwood is exactly the same. He’s a real players’ coach. He stands up for you as individuals and players as well.”
Asked if he fancied stepping up should Root decide he has run his race, Stokes, the vice-captain, replied: “I’ve said I’ve never really had an ambition to be a captain. That’s totally Joe’s decision. He shouldn’t be forced into doing it. I’m sure Cooky felt the same way. He did it for so long. When he knew his time was up, his time was up. Those discussions haven’t even entered anywhere near Joe yet.”
Root’s commitment was in evidence when England returned to training on Sunday and the captain found himself using the slinger to help his teammates bat in the nets. The coaching staff is now threadbare, Silverwood having tested positive while already isolating with his family in Melbourne, and following on from Jon Lewis (the seam bowling coach), Jeetan Patel (spin coach) and Darren Veness (fitness) last week.
To sum things up, the former captain Adam Hollioake drove down from Queensland to Sydney over the weekend after being asked to help out by Graham Thorpe, the acting head coach, only to discover he was a close contact of a positive case and needed to immediately isolate. Soon after, the local net bowlers were forced out of England’s session midway through after one of them received a positive result.
“You almost go back to club cricket where you have to do your own stuff,” Stokes said, regarding the farcical situation. “The next couple of days are about getting what you can out of the resources we have available. It’s not ideal but it’s also Sydney at new year, so you’ve got to look for the positives – in a non‑Covid sense.”
Among these is simply a return to the international arena for Stokes, the 30-year-old having taken four months out in the summer to address a finger injury and his mental health. By his own admission his output so far – 101 runs with the bat at 16, four wickets with the ball at 62 – has been “pretty average”. To continue a theme of England’s recent press interactions, he too now wants to put “pride back into the badge”.
There was also an acceptance that Australia have been outstanding with the ball, never more so than the second evening in Melbourne when Mitchell Starc reduced England to 31 for four in the final hour and Stokes found himself walking out in front of 49,000 baying home fans after Jack Leach’s appearance as nightwatchman lasted two balls.
Stokes, who admitted to delaying his entrance in the hope of shaving off an over before stumps, said: “When I look back at that hour, with Pat Cummins and Mitch Starc bowling, even I was watching that going, ‘I don’t know what I would do to counteract that’. That was some of the highest quality bowling I think I’ve seen in a Test match.
“I said to some of the guys the next morning, it’s the first time I’ve actually been taken aback by the atmosphere in a cricket ground. Although we were on the receiving end of that, it was pretty special to feel that at the MCG.”
Though England’s resources are reduced, they appear unlikely to call on any players featuring in the Big Bash League. On Sunday those in the Twenty20 squad who will face West Indies this month – Sam Billings, Saqib Mahmood, Tymal Mills, James Vince, Reece Topley and George Garton – were told to return to the UK by 7 January.
Reported initially as if it was a Dunkirk-style evacuation in response to the rising number of Covid cases in Australia, this was always their intended departure in order to begin “safe living guidelines and Covid-19 protocols” before the squad’s flight to Barbados.