England skipper Joe Root termed Ben Stokes ‘the heartbeat’ of the Test side and admitted that he and the coach will have a hard time balancing the XI in the all-rounder’s absence. Root further asserted that he couldn’t care less when Stokes returns, and all he wants is for his friend to be okay.
Following England’s 0-1 loss to New Zealand in June, a series defeat that ended their 7-year unbeaten run at home, it was expected that the side would be bolstered by the return of Ben Stokes, who’d missed the two-match series against the Kiwis with a finger injury. Statistically Stokes has been England’s best batsman at home across the past two years, but what his presence does is also balance the side, allowing the captain and coach to field a playing XI that covers all bases.
England struggled to balance the side in the 0-1 defeat to New Zealand in June, and ahead of the first Test against India, Joe Root feels that fielding a balanced XI in the absence of Stokes will be a huge challenge for the Three Lions. Root termed Stokes irreplaceable, and admitted that fielding a balanced XI in his absence ‘will take a lot of thinking’.
“In my opinion, there’s no one that compares to Ben Stokes in world cricket,” Root said on Monday.
“Obviously for a long time now, he’s been incredible. He’s the heartbeat of this team. Balancing the side with Ben not there is one of the things that will take a lot of the thinking.”
Stokes will miss the India Tests after having taken an indefinite break for his own mental wellbeing, and Root attested that, with respect to Stokes, the all-rounder’s return to cricket is the last thing on his and his teammates’ minds. Root termed cricket ‘secondary’ and said that he just wants one thing – for his friend to be okay.
“From my point of view, I just want my friend to be okay. Anyone who knows Ben knows he always puts other people first. Now is an opportunity for him to put himself first, to take time to look after himself and get to a good place again.
“Cricket has to be a secondary thought. It’s a long way down the line and he should take as much time as he needs. He’s got my full support on that and he’s been assured he’s got the full support of the ECB on that. And certainly, he’s got the whole team’s support. More than anything, we just want Ben to be okay. He’s got everyone behind him.
“I had a conversation with Ben and that’s when I found out. The call will stay between the two of us but for me it was hard to see a friend like that. More than anything, I just want him to be okay. I think throughout this it’s important for people to respect his privacy to give him the best chance to deal with this in his own way.”
The five-Test series against India starts in a day’s time, but there have already been talks about The Ashes, and the strict restrictions that could be imposed on players. There are rumors going around that the Australian government might not allow the players’ families to travel with them and in the wake of the same, several experts have claimed that they would not blame the English players for withdrawing.
Root, however, said that the opportunity to lift the urn is a dream, and insisted that conversations can only be had once the Australian Government makes the protocols official and known to the public.
“What I will say is that having the opportunity to lift that urn is one of the things you dream about from being four or five years old. That does not change. Of course there are challenges, but everyone is desperate to be part of an Ashes series in Australia.
“From a players’ point of view, until we know what the lay of the land is, it’s very hard to make any sort of decision. Until then we have to continue conversations with the ECB so they can work with Australia to try to come up with what it’s going to look like when we get there.”