Joe Root: 'I expected too much from "superhero" Ben Stokes'

England captain says "no excuses" as team seeks to bounce back from Brisbane loss

Joe Root addresses the media before training, England training, The Ashes, Adelaide, December 14, 2021

Joe Root addresses the media before training  •  AFP/Getty Images

Joe Root, England's captain, has conceded he was guilty of expecting too much, too soon from his returning "superhero" Ben Stokes, after his team slumped to a nine-wicket defeat in the first Test at Brisbane that has left them needing to strike back quickly in this week's day-night Test at Adelaide.
Stokes made scores of 5 and 14 in his two innings at the Gabba, and appeared to be hampered with a knee injury as his bowling workload was limited to 12 overs - in which time he was deprived of the key wicket of David Warner after being retrospectively called for a no-ball.
Writing in his column in the Mirror, Stokes was critical of his display. "I didn't do anything whatsoever except take a catch and bowl a few no-balls," he said, "so the one positive is that I probably can't get much worse than that."
Root, however, discovered at first hand Stokes' eagerness to make amends after being struck on the helmet during his hour-long bowling stint in the nets at Adelaide, and believes his team-mate will be better placed to perform to his own standards this week, having now had a chance to return to competitive action after a lengthy lay-off during the summer to manage his mental health while he recovered from a badly broken finger.
"It was a huge ask and I'm probably as guilty as anyone; I expected too much of him," Root said of Stokes' performance at the Gabba, his first competitive outing since July 26. "It's because I see him almost as a bit of a superhero.
"Look at what he's done in the last few years when he's played; at least once a series, maybe twice a series, he's done something extraordinary which has won us a game on its own. And you do get a little complacent about expecting that.
"It's easy to forget on a big occasion like that, whether it's because he's not played a huge amount and also what he's had to go through recently as well, I think there was a bit too much on him.
"But you know the character he is, it'll have motivated him even more now to put in one of those magical performances. Whether that comes this week or further down the series, I know it's going to come."
Root, however, knows that England cannot afford another slow start from their star players at Adelaide. The team was playing catch-up from the first half-hour at Brisbane, slumping to 11 for 3 after choosing to bat first, and history does not favour them to mount a fightback.
Only once, under Len Hutton in 1954-55, have England come back to win in Australia after losing the first Test, while Australia's 3-2 Don Bradman-inspired win in 1936-37 is the only campaign in which a side has recovered from a 0-2 deficit.
"It's not going to get any harder than that first day in Brisbane," Root said. "Especially for guys who have not experienced what an Ashes series is like in Australia. We know it's not going to get more difficult than that, so in that respect there's no excuses."
England are likely to welcome back at least one of their two senior seamers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, neither of whom played in Brisbane. But having witnessed Stokes' struggles to get up to speed in the series, Root is conscious of not over-stating their potential recalls either.
"I think the only thing I'd probably say - and it sounds ridiculous - is not to try too hard," he said. "They've not played the first game but they're world-class performers, they know what they're doing and should trust what they've done for so long. Just go and be Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad if you get your opportunity."
One major decision centres around the fate of Jack Leach, England's spinner, who was cracked for 102 runs in 13 overs at Brisbane, but who also had had no opportunity to build pressure after England had been bowled out for 147 on the first day.
"As difficult as it was for him, he has had a couple of days to think about it and I'm sure he'll be wanting to get straight back out there," Root said. "Look at when he bowled: it was the best time to face spin. We only had 150 on the board, so there was not a lot working in his favour. If we'd gone later into the game, we'd have expected him to bowl more.
"They made a big, bold statement saying they were going to come out and attack him, put him under pressure, and when there is only 150 runs on the board and you're one down, it is easy to go and do that. But that's part and parcel of Test cricket. It is not going to get any harder than that for him. I'm sure he'll come back strongly."