January 31, 2023



Joe Root backs Ben Stokes to cover as England captain if he misses first Test | Sport

4 min read

Joe Root would have no qualms handing over the England captaincy to Ben Stokes should the birth of his second child and problems leaving the team’s biosecure bubble lead him to miss the first Test against West Indies.

The dates and venues for the series next month were made public on Tuesday – albeit subject to final government clearance – with a series opener at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl from 8 July and the second and third Tests played at Old Trafford from 16 and 24 July respectively.

The two grounds have been selected for their on-site hotels that will mean players and support staff living away from the outside world while subject to a rigorous Covid-19 testing regime. But for Root, whose wife, Carrie, is due to give birth at the start of next month, this lockdown presents a problem.

England’s medical team are still drawing up protocols for exiting and re-entering the venues – known as “the bridge to the outside” – and there is no guarantee Root will be able leave and return mid-Test in the same way Michael Vaughan (2004 v New Zealand at Headingley) could when captaining the side.

Root, who intends to be present at the birth whatever the circumstances, may have to rule himself out of a Test in advance. But while his runs from No 4 would be lost, he believes his Stokes is ready to step up in terms of leadership. 

“I could see him doing a very good job,” Root said. “One of his great qualities as vice-captain and as a leader is he sets the example. The way he goes about training, how he wants to bowl in difficult circumstances, the way he stands up in different scenarios with the bat – he drags people with him.”

Joe Root had an excellent run with the bat when Peter Moores was England coach for the second time

Joe Root had an excellent run with the bat when Peter Moores was the England coach for the second time Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Asked if he could see Stokes taking on the role full-time one day and thriving, given it proved a struggle for Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, Root said: “Until you get the opportunity to do it for longer, you just never know, it might be a huge success. I wouldn’t put it past him. 

“Throughout his career he’s always responded well and Test captaincy is more than just a bit of added responsibility. Over time it does take a lot out of you but he’s a very impressive player and man in our dressing room. I’d never say Ben Stokes can’t do anything, he’s pretty much proved that.”

Root’s goal of winning the Ashes in Australia in 2021-22 means a permanent handover is unlikely any time soon, with the more immediate target of regaining the Wisden Trophy from West Indies at the forefront of his mind following last year’s chastening 2-1 defeat in the Caribbean.

Jason Holder’s 25-strong squad will travel to the UK on Monday and set up camp at Old Trafford for a 14-day quarantine period during which they will be permitted to train.

Root, while confident in the biosecure plans, is nevertheless grateful the tourists are arriving to help English cricket, even if the lack of crowds will make it a strange experience. 

He said: “For West Indies to come over here, they are helping the game massively. Safety is everything and it wouldn’t be possible if that was going to be compromised. Still, it must be extremely scary and I think the whole cricketing world will be grateful to see some cricket again.

“This time of year, in normal circumstances, is extremely exciting; the buildup to the first Test is always very special. It will be very different. It’s hard to know what to expect, what it’ll feel like when we play in empty stadiums.”

Asked if he liked the idea of crowd noise played over the PA system, Root replied: “It depends – not if they’re saying I should be sacked in the morning. But a few Barmy Army chants a couple of times a session would be nice. If we need a wicket or something, I’m sure the lads would appreciate that.”

England’s Test players are expected to enter the Ageas Bowl bubble on 23 June, along with a reserve squad to provide warm-up opposition, but have a total of 55 to cover all formats this summer who have begun individual coaching sessions. 

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Root is using Trent Bridge as his base and is working with Nottinghamshire’s head coach, Peter Moores. During their time together with England, when Moores was in his second spell as head coach, the right-hander averaged 94 in 10 Test matches and is hoping this reunion, plus the extended break, unlocks more runs.

“You could argue that some of my best years batting-wise were while he was in charge,” said Root, whose average of 55 over the winter was boosted by a double century in Hamilton. “I’ve enjoyed [the time off] and benefited from it, having a bit of time to think about the game as a batter and as a captain.

“I’ve taken stock: the best way to take the team forward and how I will get the best out of myself for the next couple of years. I could see that having a big impact in terms of longevity. Hopefully, we start seeing a few more converted scores and England winning plenty of games.”

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