Root and Stokes
So just after our monthly deadline last time round, Joe Root was confirmed as the new England Test captain and, shortly afterwards Ben Stokes was appointed vice-captain. I’m very much not alone in questioning this second decision even more than the first.
I would prefer Joe Root not to be captain. I think he’s becoming a victim of the worst trait in English sporting public psyche: find your young hope; rest all your hopes on your young hope; give your young hope all the responsibility available as well as the hopes he already carries; watch young hope become crushed by the pressure of it all.
Joe Root has been such an exciting player for England precisely because he plays without seeming to feel the burden of pressure on his shoulders. Yet we know from the various experiments with his batting position that he is not immune to feeling the heat, and his performances do suffer when conditions for him aren’t right. For a player whose success has been all about freedom and the cheeky grin, captaincy really looks more like a pair of shackles than wings. If, of course, like Nasser, Strauss or Cook you are already rooted solidly to the ground in your whole personality and manner of play, shackles don’t really distract you. If, like Botham, Flintoff and even K-Pe-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named your play is all about flying free and high with all the flashing brilliance of a kingfisher, those shackles suddenly become a lot more restrictive.
But I suppose with a team in flux, as I’ve written about before, and so many places still not nailed down, the team management was always going to go with a first name on the team sheet who isn’t set to retire in two years and who can be trusted not to waste all the team’s reviews on his own appalling DRS opinions (yes, looking at you, Mr Broad) approach.
The Stokes decision, though, does not make sense to me at all. It smacks of a teacher giving an unruly pupil the task of handing out books to make them feel useful and important and maybe therefore behave a bit better. Ben Stokes is a great character for English cricket, but he’s got all the discipline of a 17th century sailor on shore leave.
Are we seriously suggesting that if Root picks up an injury that keeps him out for a summer that we would turn to Stokes as captain? If not, then what is the point in appointing him? I like Stokes; I like the way he attacks the game. I only see the brainwork of cricket leadership detracting from the brawn that has made him so successful.
It feels more like it’s been done so that Joe Root has a cheerleader at close quarters, rather than a more cautious or experienced deputy. We know that captaining England is a lonely as well as a prestigious task, but I’m not sure that sticking a mate in nearby is the answer.
Perhaps it’s even the opposite, though: perhaps Stokes is the only player on the team who won’t be overawed by Root’s golden shine and is the only one who can be relied on to question and challenge the inexperienced Root’s tactics. There aren’t many others on the team who can speak from their own captaincy experience, and a few who, one feels, only see their game from the perspective of their own contribution to it. Perhaps Stokes’ seeming irresponsibility will make him the most valuable asset the team has, as the player with just the right amount of abandon to help steer the England ship with none of the self-doubt or selfishness that would hold others back.