'Merciless scrutiny': England warned over 'irresponsible' captaincy call

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Ben Stokes (R) is this week expected to be announced as the successor to former England Test captain Joe Root (L). Pic: Getty
Ben Stokes (R) is this week expected to be announced as the successor to former England Test captain Joe Root (L). Pic: Getty

The seemingly imminent instalment of Ben Stokes as England cricket captain has come with a sizeable warning, with fears it's placing an "irresponsible" burden on the talented allrounder.

Stokes could be confirmed as England's Test captain as soon as Thursday, when new managing director Rob Key appears at Lord's to outline his vision for the men's side.

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The 30-year-old was the immediate favourite to succeed Joe Root when the Yorkshireman stood down after five years in charge but, with a leadership vacuum at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), no decision could be made until Key's appointment was ratified.

It's understood one of Stokes' first big moves as skipper will be to tell Key he wants veteran pace duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad recalled to the Test side after both were surprisingly left out of the recent tour of the West Indies.

From left to right, England veterans James Anderson and Stuart Broad playing against Australia in the Ashes.
England veterans James Anderson (L) and Stuart Broad (R) were both surprisingly left out of England's recent West Indies Test tour. Pic: Getty

Despite his previous role as Root's right-hand man, Stokes' decision to take on the captaincy is not necessarily a given.

His workload as a full-blooded allrounder is already sizeable, he has previously distanced himself from coveting the job and only last year took a four-month mental health break from the sport.

It's for precisely that reason that The Telegraph’s Oliver Brown described it as "borderline irresponsible" to burden Stokes with the England captaincy, warning that it amounted to an "implosion waiting to happen".

“Ben Stokes is just nine months removed from mental health problems so acute that he announced an indefinite hiatus from cricket,” he wrote.

“Stokes’ pattern of behaviour suggests he does not take kindly to being judged.

“As England captain, though, he will not have much choice in the matter. From the second he leads out his team for the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s in June, his every move will be subject to merciless scrutiny. It looks, frankly, like an implosion waiting to happen.”

Seen on the right, England's Ben Stokes reacting to a rejected appeal for LBW against West Indies star Jermaine Blackwood.
England's Ben Stokes reacts to a rejected appeal for LBW against West Indies star Jermaine Blackwood. Pic: Getty

Former England captain Michael Vaughan previously insisted, however, that Stokes was the “only person” fit to replace Root as the new skipper.

“He’s got a great cricket brain - you can see that when he bats. And his will to win is incredible,” Vaughan wrote for The Telegraph.

“Yes, Stokes doesn’t have that much captaincy experience. But sometimes that is not so important if you have a presence and feel for the game.”

Vaughan added that Stokes can and should lean on his close friend Root to offer advice and lessen the captaincy burden out in the middle.

“He will not be the vice-captain but he will be able to give Ben his honest feedback day in, day out. They are very close,” Vaughan wrote of Root.

Ben Stokes announcement expected this week

Rubber-stamping Stokes' appointment at ECB board level should be a formality but it is not certain that it will be pushed through in the next 24 hours.

As a cricketer, Stokes has defined himself by devoting himself to the needs of the team and it has become increasingly clear that, with the only other captaincy options lacking experience, form or a current place in the team, his promotion is best for business.

Key, an accomplished television broadcaster in recent years, is due to face the media for the first time since taking the reins on Thursday and would prefer to come bearing news on Stokes.

That would give him something concrete to talk about and help nudge the conversation forward with less than five weeks before the first Test of the summer against New Zealand.

The timeline does not realistically allow Key to wait for a Test coach to be in place before anointing Stokes.

Former South Africa and India head coach Gary Kirsten, currently working with Indian Premier League franchise Gujarat Lions and Hundred side Welsh Fire, has once again emerged as an option to take on the red-ball role four years after being rejected by England.

Kirsten is understood to have lost out to Chris Silverwood on the strength of his interview in 2018, but both parties could be ready to take a fresh look at the situation.

Graham Ford, Mahela Jayawardene, current assistant coach Paul Collingwood and former Australian test player Simon Katich would also come with strong claims.

Key has plenty to discuss beyond the on-field leadership and will be called upon to provide some clarity on the coaching structure beneath the new format-specific heads as well as the selection panel.

with agencies

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