Joe Root has stepped down as England captain. A decision he has called, “the most challenging I have had to make in my career.”
Root was England captain for five years, becoming the most experienced skipper of all time as he led the side in a record 64 games. He also holds the record for leading England to the most victories (27) and defeats (26).
But, with Root no longer performing the role, who could feasibly replace him? Here is a look at the options on the table.
Few spots in the XI are currently guaranteed but Stokes is one of few certain starters in the Test team when available. On his side is the fact that he has served as Root’s vice-captain, led in the regular skipper’s absence against the West Indies in 2020 and is widely considered to be a leading figure in the dressing room.
What goes against Stokes is his heavy workload as an all-rounder who features across all formats and in the IPL; Root himself has not been a part of England’s T20I set-up for the last couple of years. Given he’s only recently returned after a lengthy lay-off, the extra burden of leadership may be an ask too far.
Pat Cummins has already enjoyed success as a fast-bowling captain and while it seems unlikely that England would go the same way, Broad was once entrusted with the full-time captaincy of the T20I side. Furthermore, in the absence of other senior figures he took on the vice-captaincy for the series against New Zealand last summer.
Broad’s key issue is that he is no longer locked into England’s Test XI, through a combination of non-selection and injury, he has played in just four of England’s last 12 Tests and was not selected for the recent tour of the Caribbean.
Anderson has never captained England but carries more Test playing experience than any one of his teammates. He’s previously acted as Root’s deputy too and, even at 39, remains one of the leading bowlers in the country, even if he wasn’t selected for the Caribbean.
Much like Broad, however, there remains the understanding that Anderson cannot play every fixture, with injuries and rotation playing their part.
Buttler has previously operated as Root’s vice-captain and takes on the same role for England’s white-ball outfits. In regards to the future, he’s widely seen as the man who will inherit the limited-overs captaincy when Eoin Morgan steps aside.
However, Buttler’s Test future carries real uncertainty, with a run of low scores leading to him being replaced by Ben Foakes for the Caribbean tour. Like Stokes, he also faces the intense workload of playing in all formats.
Bairstow is rarely mentioned in these discussions despite his record of 83 Tests making him the most experienced player in the set-up behind Root, Broad and Anderson. His recent form, scoring two centuries in his last four Tests, means he is one of few players assured of a place in the XI, and his clear passion for playing for his country means it’s a role he’d no doubt take on.
Yes, he’s retired from Test cricket. But given the state of English cricket currently all options must remain on the table. Moeen has previously captained England in the white-ball game so has leadership experience and is also extremely well liked and respected within the England set-up. Furthermore, his international ability with both bat and ball mean he would not suffer from the same problem of other candidates where his place in the XI would come under question. An unlikely option, and one where Moeen would need to be convinced to return to the Test game itself in the process, but an option nonetheless.
Having led Surrey to a County Championship title in 2018, Burns has leadership experience to lean on and, with 31 Tests on his record, is one of England’s most experienced batters amongst the current crop.
The problem, however, is that he now finds himself out of the side and battling to regain his spot. While he finished 2021 as England’s second-highest run-scorer and the only man aside of Root to hit a century, it remains to be seen whether the left-hander will even be in line for selection, let alone captaincy contention, heading into this summer.
Would England ever consider parachuting in a captain who isn’t part of the current Test set-up? James Vince has recently been tipped to make a comeback and leads Hampshire in county cricket. Another left-field option would be Will Rhodes, who led Warwickshire to a County Championship title last summer. Sam Billings is hugely popular at Kent, and was part of an England Test squad earlier this summer, though he missed out on a debut against New Zealand.
It’s evidently an extreme option, but not quite an unheard-of one. George Bailey captained Australia on T20I debut in 2012, while in 1995 Lee Germon was appointed New Zealand’s captain on debut following a disastrous period for the Black Caps.