The issues facing Ben Stokes as England Test captain

The 30-year-old succeeds Joe Root

Rory Dollard
Thursday 28 April 2022 11:06
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Ben Stokes has plenty to ponder as England’s new Test captain (Jason O’Brien/PA)
Ben Stokes has plenty to ponder as England’s new Test captain (Jason O’Brien/PA)

England’s Test team are entering a new era under Ben Stokes’ leadership after the all-rounder was confirmed as the new captain.

The 30-year-old takes over a side that have won just one of their last 17 matches and face the dual task of reinventing their identity at the same time as turning around a dire sequence of results.

Here we look at some of the most pressing issues.

Make his voice heard on the coaching job

Stokes (right) with former England coach Chris Silverwood (Stu Forster/Pool)

It might not be a captain’s position to appoint the coach he works with, but now that he is in place it would be perverse not to seek Stokes’ counsel on the vacancy.

Stokes has played cricket all over the world, has come across many of the leading candidates on the international circuit or in the Indian Premier League and is bound to have formed strong opinions.

It is imperative that the working relationship between the on-field and off-field leaders is a good one, so his views on potential candidates will be a vital resource for managing director Rob Key.

Redefine Root

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.

Stokes' Instagram tribute to his predecessor

England are lucky that the bond between their former skipper and his successor is so strong.

Stokes and Root have been close since meeting as teenagers and have forged a strong double act as the fulcrum of the team in recent years.

The dynamic is about to change, though, with Stokes stepping up as the man in charge as Root slips back into the ranks. To get the most out of the switch, Stokes needs to give his friend whatever he needs to focus and flourish as a star batter.

Root’s runs will remain invaluable to England and he should be asked to commit as a long-term number three now his workload has thinned out.

Furthermore, he should be encouraged to indulge himself with a little more selfishness with the weight of leadership lying elsewhere. Stokes was an ace in Root’s pack and now the favour needs to be returned.

Lead the way on Anderson and Broad

Stuart Broad (left) and James Anderson (right) continue to cast a long shadow (Jason O’Brien/PA)

The top two wicket-takers in English history have both made it clear they were disappointed not just by their omission from the West Indies tour, but the lack of communication around the decision.

At 39 and 35, the end is clearly in sight for both, though there is plenty of room for savvier management. Stokes has shared a dressing room with them for years and will know what kind of a role he envisages for the decorated duo.

But what he has in mind for them doesn’t matter as much as how it is relaid. Whether they are fully reintegrated, offered a short-term role and a fond farewell or jettisoned entirely, they deserve to hear about it from the new man in charge.

Work on the weaknesses

Dropped catches have become all too familiar for England’s Test side (Jason O’Brien/PA)

There have been two glaring, recurring factors in England’s recent struggles – a tendency for the batting to collapse at key moments and a poor showing in the slips. The latter should be an easier fix than the former – Trevor Bayliss made it an early priority of his reign back in 2015 and saw instant results – and finding, then drilling, a reliable cordon is a must for any team with ambition.

As for England’s vulnerability to throw away clusters of wickets in fast forward, there are questions of bad technique, bad mindset and bad habits.

For his era to be an improvement, Stokes needs his batting group to be sturdier, more studious and less than stricken by panic. He will need to lead in word and deed, while the revamped coaching set-up must take care of the basics.

Commit to spin

Matt Parkinson has had some success in white-ball internationals (Martin Rickett/PA)

Back in 2018, England whitewashed Sri Lanka on their own turf as a three-pronged spin attack of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach worked wonders on turning tracks in Galle, Kandy and Colombo.

That proved something of a false dawn for their spin department, with Rashid disappearing from red-ball contention a few months later, Moeen retiring after inconsistent form and selection and Leach failing to play all last summer before being thrown into a chastening Ashes series.

A properly balanced team needs variation and Stokes must throw his weight behind the cause. Leach had an encouraging time in the West Indies and Dom Bess’ batting and fielding make him an attractive all-round package, but Matt Parkinson’s leg-spin remains an untested quantity at the highest level.

Might Stokes have the attacking instincts to gamble on a big-turning wrist-spinner? Whatever he decides, he needs to empower the slow bowlers at his disposal or risk running a one-paced attack.

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