The independent voice of cricket

Ashes 2021/22

Joe Root has made mistakes but sacking him won’t solve anything

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

It’s customary for Ashes defeats to be followed by widespread introspection into the state of the English game. Given the extent Australia’s dominance over England this time around, it’s only natural that the post-mortem begins while the body’s still warm, with two Tests – Covid permitting – left to play.

No one holding a senior leadership position in England men’s cricket is safe. At the very top, Tom Harrison is expected to depart from his position as CEO at some point in 2022. Chris Silverwood is almost certain to lose his job; overpromoted and underqualified, despite a promising start to his tenure it just hasn’t worked out. Ashley Giles’ role in making Silverwood the most powerful head coach in a generation should also be scrutinised.

And then we come to Joe Root. At Sydney, Root will become the man to have captained England on more occasions than anyone else. No England captain has presided over as many Test wins as Root (27), nor has one overseen as many defeats (24). Root is also the first England captain in over a century to preside over consecutive away Ashes series defeats. Should he continue in the job, he is likely to overtake some of the most successful captains in the game’s history (your Clive Lloyds, your Ricky Pontings) in terms of overall Tests captained.


A captaincy great, Root is not. Root has made some significant mistakes this tour; not bowling first at Brisbane, not playing either of Stuart Broad or James Anderson in the series opener and dropping Jack Leach at Adelaide all spring to mind. His longstanding distrust of spin has been strange while his misuse of Jofra Archer two winters ago in New Zealand bordered on irresponsible.

But as long as he still wants to do it – and few would blame him if he didn’t – he really should stay in the role. First and foremost, there is literally not a single viable alternative. When the runs were flowing back in 2019, Rory Burns, Surrey’s long-time captain, was a possibility. Stuart Broad would have been a shrewd short-term option should England have sought something different two years ago, but at 35 and no longer guaranteed a spot in the XI, going to him now would be a stretch.

The ‘obvious’ alternative is Ben Stokes, the man who deputised for Root for one Test in 2020 and ably led a ragtag bunch of hopefuls to a stirring 3-0 ODI series win over Pakistan earlier this year. However, tasking a player who is only one series into his return to the game following an extended break to prioritise his mental wellbeing is arguably negligent.

Stokes’ game is clearly some way away from his extraordinary 2019-2020 peak. What England need more than anything from Stokes is for him to return to somewhere near that apex, to once again paper over the cracks in the English game. He is an inexperienced captain who still, rightly, wants to play all three formats and feature in the IPL. On the most recent episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, Mark Butcher argued that the England Test skipper would ideally be someone likely to demand changes to how red-ball cricket is organised in this country, a red-ball Eoin Morgan if you will, who has a clear vision for how the England should play and how England players prepare.

If Stokes isn’t that person, it seems like an almighty risk to take with little to gain in return. The financial realities are different, but you only have to look at the recent retirement of Quinton de Kock from Test cricket less than 12 months after he was the Proteas’ temporary Test captain and Shakib Al Hasan’s increasing reluctance to play Test cricket to realise how difficult it is for all-format stars to pursue Test cricket well into their 30s; handing Stokes the captaincy is unlikely to prolong his Test career.

Michael Atherton wrote in The Times on Thursday that “the lack of alternatives is the worst reason for keeping someone in a job.” And he’s right, it’s a terrible reason to stick by someone. But when there are no viable alternatives, what else can you do?

Sign up to bet365 to be entered into a draw for the chance to win a Wisden t-shirt of your choice, terms and conditions apply, more information here 18+ begambleaware.org

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99