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Ben Stokes says he will utilise his personal psychiatrist to help deal with the pressures of England captaincy and allow him to continue being a confidant to his teammates.
The allrounder, who was named as the 81st Test skipper on Thursday, has been seeing an independent psychiatrist since last summer when he took a break from all cricket because of struggles with his mental health. It was a hiatus that began in July, with Stokes admitting he had difficult thoughts and found life in bio-secure bubbles during the pandemic were exacerbating problems off the field.
The progress made by the 30-year-old has been remarkable, returning to play in the Ashes and then the Caribbean where he scored a stunning 120 in the second Test to suggest he was in a better place, on a number of fronts.
Even if the circumstances of how captaincy presented itself were far from ideal after Joe Root chose to step down, that Stokes feels in a good place to take on the challenge of a job he admits he never coveted is a sign of his surer footing. Something he wishes to bestow onto those he will now lead.
“I took my break back then because I needed to,” he said on Thursday in his first official media engagements since the appointment.
“I spoke with someone and I will continue to do that and personally I see not just that scenario but a lot of scenarios before that – on the field stuff, off-field stuff I’ve been through – is a positive for me now being given the responsibility of being the captain because I feel like I can relate to anything going forward.
“If any of the players might be struggling with something I have been that person in the dressing-room and it’s not just younger players, but also senior players should feel like they can talk to me. I hope that doesn’t change now I’m captain.
“I have been a massive advocate for this area since I took my break and I will continue to do that. I know how important it is not just for our players but the people who tour around with us. They do the exact same stuff day in, day out that we do. But I have that experience to talk to anybody, whoever they may be, if they feel like they need to. The hardest thing to do in the first place is to talk to somebody.”
The rigours of the role are known to Stokes who acted as vice-captain more or less throughout Root’s tenure, losing that title in the fallout of his Bristol streetfight in 2017, before later earning it back.
“I have been on Joe’s ride for a long time. I know the pressures being England captain can bring. This is something Joe has told me: make sure you have the people around you to take as much of the pressure off you as possible.”
Benevolence ties in with Stokes’ vision for an England side that have only won one out of their last 17 Tests. On practical matters, he confirmed a move to number six in the batting order to balance his commitments with bat and ball. “I feel that is best for the team”. More holistically, he wants the ethos going forward to be one of everyone pulling together for the good of the team.
“I think a great starting point for me is I want everybody to be selfless in the decisions they make and they make sure every decision they make in a game going forward is with the intention of to win the game for England.
“It’s always been my main goal playing for England – thinking about what I need to do to win this game when I have the responsibility on my shoulders – whatever stage of the game it is. That’s always been my main priority – personal performances, individual performances have never been at the top of my priority list. It’s always been the end result of the game which is winning. So I’d love to have 10 people with the same mentality as me.”
Stokes’ first game as captain will be at Lord’s on 2 June against New Zealand, the country of his birth by which time England could well have filled the red and white ball head coach vacancies.
Having spent the first month of the summer out after picking up a knee injury in the Caribbean, Stokes returns to competitive action on Thursday as Durham host Glamorgan in Division Two of the County Championship.