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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2022 Captain of the Year: Different Stokes, different blokes

England's Test captain showed sides of himself few thought he possessed, on the way to inspiring and reinventing his team

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
18-Mar-2023
Tests: P10 W9 L1
There was next to no inkling of what was about to hit English cricket when, back last April, Stokes was unveiled as Joe Root's successor as Test captain.
It wasn't that Stokes' leadership credentials per se had been in any doubt, but they were assumed to be of the lead-from-the-front variety - and given England's prior experience with the up-and-at-'em captaincy styles of his fellow allrounders Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff there was a slight trepidation as to how his personality would translate to such a role.
Ten extraordinary Tests later, however, all doubts have been assuaged. Stokes, in partnership with his new head coach and kindred spirit Brendon McCullum, has overseen one of the most stunning transformations in all of sporting history, and marked himself down as arguably the most enlightened leader of his generation.
From the outset, he has been as much England's shaman as their captain. Through the power of positivity, he has instilled in his team a near trance-like devotion to the cause - urging them to go yet harder with the bat (often to his personal detriment in the short term) and never shrinking from an attacking option in the field.
Within half an hour of Stokes' first Test in charge, against New Zealand at Lord's last summer, James Anderson had been rewarded for his early incision with no fewer than six slips, while Jack Leach still marvels at his captain's refusal to post a sweeper despite some early tap at Trent Bridge, a commitment to aggression that ultimately earned him his career-best ten-for.
Some questioned whether Stokes needed the pressure of captaincy after all that he has achieved in his career, especially after his high-profile burn-out in 2021. Instead, the emotional intelligence that that experience instilled in him has proven to be his superpower. For all the titanic feats he has produced with bat and ball, he's turning out to be England's most cerebral captain since Brearley.

Key moment

Stokes' defining victory will surely turn out to be the Rawalpindi Test in December, a stunning heist on a dog of a deck - one that was set in motion by England's astonishing haul of 506 runs on the opening day, but which was only truly unlocked by Stokes' perfectly dangled declaration carrot on the fourth afternoon. In terms of unlocking what he believed his team could achieve, however, nothing is more legendary than his pep talk to Jonny Bairstow at tea on the fourth day at Trent Bridge against New Zealand. "Ben at the other end said, 'Don't even think about hitting one down [the ground], hit it into the stands," Bairstow recalled. The match had been delicately poised at 139 for 4, chasing 299, when they walked back to the middle. Barely an hour later, it was done.

The numbers

4.77 England's run-rate in the course of their ten Tests under Stokes. That is nearly a run per over quicker than the next most-brisk team, Australia (3.86).
19 Number of consecutive innings in which England have claimed all ten opposition wickets, including in their only defeat of 2022, against South Africa at Lord's.
9 Total Test victories that England achieved in 2022, second only to the 11 they achieved under Michael Vaughan in 2004.

What they said

"He's got the benefit of a long and distinguished career behind him, and he's in that stage of his life where he wants to do something significant and make a real impact. Not just on the game but on other people's careers. He's identified that taking away that pressure and that fear of failure allows the talent and the skill to come out."
- Brendon McCullum, England's head coach
"He's always had a fantastic cricket brain… but he's just so much more rounded than when we were growing up. He was this alpha guy who would whack it, but he's got other sides to him now. He'll put an arm round people, express what he means really articulately. I didn't think he had some of the words in his locker. But he's been world-class."
- Mark Wood, childhood friend and England team-mate

The closest contenders

Jos Buttler
Buttler took his time to find his feet as Eoin Morgan's successor, with a blank home summer against India and South Africa and a non-playing role in Pakistan. But by the time he'd carried England to their second T20 World Cup title, England's white-ball GOAT was in absolute command of his brief.
Meg Lanning
Pound for pound, the Australia Women's cricket team is the most formidable sporting entity in the world, and Lanning is its queen. August's Commonwealth Games title secured them an unprecedented Grand Slam, to go alongside the ODI World Cup that they won in early 2022 and the 2020 T20 World Cup title.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket