Former England captain Mike Brearley has called for Joe Root’s tenure as England Test skipper to come to an end and has advocated Ben Stokes to be his replacement.
Writing in the March issue of The Cricketer, Brearley, widely regarded as England’s greatest ever captain, was critical of Root’s overly defensive approach as captain during England’s 4-0 Ashes defeat earlier this winter.
“Whenever we had fought our way back not to parity but to opportunity, we tended to let the pressure go,” wrote Brearley. “When we had them, say, 120-4 or 80-3 our key bowlers had already bowled long-long-is spells. Later in an innings we might be saving our wicket-takers for the second new ball, by which time any small chance had gone.
“In such circumstances, one needs, as captain and from the side as a whole, nerve, a willingness to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition, to seize the moment. Too often I felt we failed to do that. A new batsman would come in, and the same old semi-defensive field would be in place. The pressure was let off. There was no sense of inspiration.
“When the later bowling is not assured (and there was also the injury to Ollie Robinson early in the Hobart Test), it’s more necessary to take chances to get early wickets with your best bowlers, or with the new ball. Fill up the slip cordon! Put a short-leg in place! Pitch the ball up a bit more, risk a few fours. James Anderson, Mark Wood and Stuart Broad can’t bowl forever, so make their early bursts count. Go for the jugular now, let tomorrow take care of itself! (I’m aware of course that the tendency to defensive field-setting is partly a feature of the times, not just Joe’s default position).”
“For all these reasons, as well as because of an inevitable loss of zest over time in this exposed job, I am one of those who believe that Root should not continue as captain, and that Stokes be given a chance, from this summer. He is inspirational. I hope he would be more open to long-term strategy-intelligence.”
Root has now captained in 61 Tests – more than anyone else to do the job – and has claimed more victories (27) and endured more defeats (25) than any other previous occupant of the role. England have lost 10, drawn three and won one of their last 14 Tests.
Stokes has captained England in just one Test thus far in his career, overseeing their defeat to West Indies at the start of the 2020 summer. Stokes played down the possibility of him succeeding Root in the near future during the recently concluded Ashes series. Speaking to the press between the third and fourth Tests of the series, Stokes said: “I’ve never really had an ambition to be a captain. Captaincy is more than about setting fields, picking the team, making decisions out there in the middle. A captain is someone you want to go out and play for. Joe Root is someone I always want to play for.
“It’s totally Joe’s decision. He shouldn’t be forced into doing it. I’m sure Cooky felt the same way. He did it for so long and when he knew his time was up, his time was up. Those discussions haven’t entered anywhere near Joe yet.
“I don’t sense that at all with Joe. He’s brought this team a long way. He’s done some great things. Obviously this series hasn’t gone too well, not from a captaincy point of view, but from a team and results point of view.”
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