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Comment

If Ben Stokes is not interested in the Test captaincy, then England are in big trouble

From appointing a strong captain to picking and nurturing a viable XI, the challenges facing the ECB are many, and it isn't moving fast enough

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
24-Apr-2022
If Ben Stokes is appointed captain, he must provide encouragement to England's talented but underperforming batters, and push for selection of legspinners like Matt Parkinson  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

If Ben Stokes is appointed captain, he must provide encouragement to England's talented but underperforming batters, and push for selection of legspinners like Matt Parkinson  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Failed England skipper Joe Root endured the unfortunate nickname "Craptain" at his home county Yorkshire. The England hierarchy should have taken more notice of that unedifying sobriquet.
Root's self-inflicted demise preceded the announcement that former Kent and England player Rob Key was taking over as managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The two events are linked, as the first announcement at least ensured Key wouldn't be making a polarising decision as his initial task. However Key's good fortune doesn't alter the point that the ECB is not good at moving quickly to reverse an untenable decision. This is not a strong ECB trait; it never has been.
England were going backwards under Root, and one of Key's first jobs will be to improve that ingrained and negative attitude.
The fact that we are still discussing Root's resignation and his possible successor is proof of the ECB's sluggishness in rectifying a poor decision. It was obvious early in Root's reign that the captaincy and he weren't a match.
The choice of players to be a reasonable England captain is very limited and this is also an indictment of the ECB. There should be a few ready replacements available in the first XI.
Before the announcement of Key's appointment, there were a number of suggestions about who could take over if Root was deposed.
Stuart Broad is an intelligent, well-spoken player, but he should not be a captaincy consideration. He's now too old and maintains a conservative streak, especially when it comes to field placings for his own bowling.
Jos Buttler is not a Test wicketkeeper; he has no obvious place in the first XI. It's hard enough to win Tests against a good team when you are playing level at XI-a-side, never mind prevailing when you are asked to perform while short-handed - just ask Mike Brearley.
There's only one viable captaincy option in the best XI and that's allrounder Ben Stokes. If he seriously isn't interested in the job, then England are in big trouble.
To question Stokes' viability based purely on the inferior captaincy of previous star allrounders is indefensible. Stokes has the fire in his belly and the positive approach to be successful. However, that alone doesn't guarantee success.
Whoever accepts the appointment, his initial job will be to make a poorly performing England side better. That is a captain's job - to improve any team's results.
This shouldn't be hard, as England have some good, underperforming batters. It was also a trend under Root that England suffered great misfortune with their genuinely fast bowlers, especially Jofra Archer.
Nonetheless batters Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Dan Lawrence possess a lot of skill but need encouragement to display it regularly. The same applies to offspinner Dom Bess, and to have not given an opportunity to the capable legspinner Matt Parkinson is nonsensical.
If Stokes does accept the job, he may be the beneficiary of Parkinson's evolution if he provides a strong voice at the selection table. And while he's at it, he could overcome the fast-bowling shortage by encouraging Jamie Overton in his endeavours. There's no doubt Overton has suffered from multiple injuries, but his genuine pace, even at under-age level, has been poorly handled on the county circuit.
English cricket has a distorted affection for correct technique. If Stokes is appointed and then can redirect this trait into more positive encouragement of talented players, he will have done his country a huge favour. If chosen, Stokes shouldn't be awarded a vote at the selection table - it's not desirable - but if he presents a good argument, that will be sufficient.
Key faces many demanding tasks ahead and he'll need to maintain his "I have a mind of my own" attitude in the face of ECB ineptitude. However his first job - appointing a viable England captain and then supporting him fully - will be a really important task.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist