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'Do it your way' - Joe Root's message for Ben Stokes

Stokes poised to become England's 81st Test captain when cricket makes its comeback

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Joe Root has told Ben Stokes to "do it your way" as he captains England for the first time against West Indies on Wednesday.
Root will miss a Test match this week for the first time since 2014 to attend the birth of his second child, with Stokes taking the reins instead. In his pre-match press conference, Stokes said that he would be "silly not to" tap into the experience around him in the side, and revealed that Root had left him a note on the hanger of the captain's blazer encouraging him to be himself.
"The best message that I've received was when I got my photos done yesterday with the blazer," Stokes said. "Rooty just left a message on the hanger which said: 'do it your way.'
"When I first got asked I said I'd be open to opinions. Just because Joe's not here, that doesn't mean I'm not going to use him. Joe's always been very open and willing [to listen] to advice from players, so I think I'd be stupid to go away from that. We've got so much experience in this team that it would be silly not to lean on that if I feel like I need some advice.
"With Joe and his personal situation it's been a case of letting him deal with that. I haven't been on him too much but I know as soon as the Test match starts, I know he'll be at home watching and I know that his phone will always be available for me to get in contact with him if I need to."
Stokes has previously pledged to take "the positive route" as captain, and said that he thought England have more of an identity as a side now than during their 2-1 series defeat in the Caribbean last year.
Since Chris Silverwood replaced Trevor Bayliss as head coach following last summer's Ashes series, the Test team has played a more familiar style of cricket, with a particular emphasis on the top order batting for long periods of time. While England's top six in the first Test will be short on experience, with just 109 caps between them, Stokes said that there is now a much clearer blueprint than has been the case in recent years.
"I think there's a lot more clarity with everybody," he said. "We have an identity as a Test team. Whereas in times gone past, a few lads might have felt under pressure with guys knocking the door down in a negative way, now we look at that in a positive way where there's competition for places in the team.
"If you're not performing well as a player, there's someone right behind you ready to come in. That's a great place to be in, especially as an international side. We have an identity now as a Test team. For us going forward, it's about building on that identity. We have a goal of becoming the best team in the world so we're building towards that."
England had planned to name their side for the first Test on Tuesday afternoon, but later delayed that decision until the toss. The question of which fast bowlers to leave out was the only decision that needed to be taken following the announcement of a 13-man squad on Saturday, with all five candidates staking strong claims.
James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are competing for three spots in the playing XI, with Stokes and offspinner Dom Bess rounding off the bowling attack, and the selectors have made clear over the course of the past two weeks that the side picked for the first Test will be the best one available to them, despite plans to rotate later in the summer.
"It's not very often that we've been in a situation where we've got six or seven bowlers to choose from," Stokes said. "It's a real head-scratcher as somebody who's got to choose the side but as a bigger picture it's a great place to be in as a team.
"I feel as if we're in a position now as a Test team like we were with the one-day team in 2015 and building for that World Cup. I feel as if we're building towards the Ashes in Australia and also India. To have the crop of fast bowlers that we now possess especially is a great place to be in as a Test team.
"I've been dreading it the last three days, having to deliver bad news to some lads. It's obviously not a nice thing to have to do, but that comes with being the captain and with being in a leadership role. It's got to be done. With the schedule that we have, with six Test matches in seven weeks, there's going to have to be a lot considered going forward. We'll have to wait and see what the future brings in terms of the Test matches after this."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98