Ben Stokes’ leadership ‘as good as I’ve seen’, says Joe Root, as England captain tipped for star showing

In charge: Ben Stokes  (Getty Images)
In charge: Ben Stokes (Getty Images)

Joe Root believes Ben Stokes’ leadership is “as good as I’ve seen” and it is “a matter of time” before the England skipper produces a big individual performance.

Amidst an enthralling and incredibly successful winter of English Test cricket, Stokes himself has had a quiet stretch of matches, with just one half-century in his last ten Tests as well as performing a drastically reduced role with the ball, the latter being due to a combination of a troublesome knee and a bowling attack that has thrived without the need for additional help.

Today, Stokes fell for a chaotic 27, as he played a shot-a-ball, before ultimately going for one hack too many and being caught at mid-off.

There is no question over Stokes’ position in his own side and nor should there be. Neither is Stokes relying on credit in the bank of BazBall. Afte rall, in this analogy, he is Mr.Barclays.

But, there is a growing sentiment of whether Stokes, by seeking to lead from the front in this high-octane style of cricket, is doing himself a disservice and failing to reach the heights he could as an individual. Stokes’ one century since taking over as captain came against South Africa in August, an innings where he had started slowly and was on 45 off his first 100 deliveries.

Defending his captain, Joe Root said: “You’re talking about having the absolute perfect performance if he comes in [today] and blasts 100 off 60 balls, but it’s a matter of time.

“I think he’s doing a brilliant job of getting the best out of himself as a leader. The decisions he’s making under pressure, the way that he’s managing the team and his players is as good as I’ve seen.”

Of his own time as leader and on the struggles of balancing the needs of a team against an individual, Root said: “There were times when I was only focused on everyone else and there were probably times when I was overly focused on myself and I think it just comes through time and experience of understanding how you manage both but…he’s doing everything, in my eyes, I think he’s doing everything exceptionally well at the minute.”

Stokes’ tactical nous came to the fore again today with a second aggressive declaration in as many matches. With forty minutes to go until the lunch break and England 435 for eight, Stokes waved his batters in to be able to have two cracks with the new ball either side of lunch.

“It was a brilliant call from Ben,” Root said. “It felt like that forty minutes before the break, the sun was out and with forty minutes of sun, a heavy roller and forty minutes of sun at lunch it might have changed the wicket. It didn’t work out like that, [but] it gave a better opportunity to make the most of conditions.

“It would have been very easy for us to keep going and we might not be sat here with them seven down tonight.

“Ultimately, I think it’s more important the contributions he’s making as a leader at the minute, because he’s getting the best out of ten other players and that in itself is massive for this team.”

Root, himself, added another fifty runs to his overnight score of 103 to finish with a fourteenth score in Test cricket of 150 plus. In the last Test at Mount Maunganui, Root attracted some criticism for falling whilst playing the reverse lap. He said at the time that he would continue to play the shot and in the second over of today’s play, he did exactly that, before repeating the trick again later in the morning. The second of the shots followed an incredible pull for six that he played on the charge against Tim Southee.

“I was trying to be as unpredictable as possible,” Root explained. “Initially I wanted to play quite conventionally and see how the ball and pitch reacted, see if I could nick a couple of boundaries and twos and stuff and actually seeing how that played it felt like cross-batted shots were going to be a safer option.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do next but I wanted to try to make it very difficult for him to set a field. There were obviously a few catchers and [the lap] meant third man went back and there was just one less [in the] area where I thought I could get out.

“Sometimes in those situations trying to be unpredictable can be the worst thing for a captain or an opposing bowler. As I mentioned after the last game I’m not going to stop playing those shots, I’ve just got to be smart about when I play them and I felt I got the balance right in this innings.”