Who could possibly take over from Joe Root as England's Test captain?

He's out of runs and under pressure, but is there really an alternative as England's leader?

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Joe Root watches from the dressing rooms during day three of the tour match between New Zealand A and England  •  Getty Images

Joe Root watches from the dressing rooms during day three of the tour match between New Zealand A and England  •  Getty Images

England's innings defeat in the first Test against New Zealand was Joe Root's 14th in 34 Tests as captain, and his personal nadir, with a total of 13 runs across two innings - fewer than he's ever before made at the helm. And, given that the performance came in the opening match of Chris Silverwood's tenure as head coach, it has fuelled the notion that a change of leader might have to be on the cards. But who on earth could be called upon to fill England's breach? We take a look at the candidates, likely and not so likely.
Just like his fellow allrounders, Ian Botham in 1981 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005, Ben Stokes looks set to crown a stellar 2019 by being voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year next month. And who knows, Stokes could well emulate that duo in other ways too, by taking the helm as England captain - in spite of the best judgment of pretty much everyone associated with the game.
That's not to say that Stokes would necessarily be a bad England captain. He is, by a distance, the least self-centred personality of the three names above - and, in fact, since his career flashed before his eyes in Bristol Crown Court last year, he's prostrated his every fibre to the wider team ethic. He's trained harder, run the twos and threes harder, valued his wicket harder (except with his two innings-changing dismissals in Mount Maunganui, but every rule has its exception, or something).
But given that some men are just better suited to being the dressing-room's sergeant major than its commanding officer, Stokes is surely better off being retained as a hugely influential vice-captain - a role to which he had to beg to be restored, having been stripped of the honour in the wake of the Bristol incident.
That request, to Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, was actually quite revealing - it suggested a character who knew he had immense presence in the dressing room but didn't want to throw his weight around without official say-so. It came across an act of extreme loyalty - to Root, fundamentally, but to the team as a whole - rather than an act of self-aggrandisement.
That said, Stokes did admit to The Times after that revelation that the England captaincy is "not something I could ever say no to" - further proof that, beyond giving his all to every situation he ends up in, he doesn't actually know what's best for him or his team.
Therefore it would be best to nip this notion in the bud right now, before Stokes has a chance to do a "Flintoff at Lord's 2006", and plough his body into submission in a futile 50-over attempt to break his opponents' resolve.
Chances: Please God, no…

On the one hand Burns is 13 Tests into his England career, and is just about keeping his average above 30 in one of the most ruinously poisonous roles in international sport. Who would even begin to bandy around talk of handing the poor chap an even more poisoned chalice?
On the other hand, Burns is 13 Tests into his England career, which is more caps than all bar two of the other 10 specialist openers to have debuted for England since Andrew Strauss's retirement in 2012.
The honourable exceptions, with 16 and 17 respectively, are Nick Compton (who might well have been a banker had Chris Silverwood's back-to-basics mantra been preached a few years earlier) and Keaton Jennings (who might also have been a captaincy contender had he managed to find any runs outside of the subcontinent). The fact that Burns has made it this far means he's a bona fide veteran now.
And in captaincy terms, Burns actually is a veteran. Because unlike Root, or Alastair Cook, or even Strauss, he would come to the role as a County Championship-winning captain following his success with Surrey in 2018 - a runaway success when you consider his own stellar contribution with the bat: 1359 runs at 64.71, almost 300 more than his nearest challenger.
If he ever got the job, Burns would be the first man to captain England after winning the Championship since Graham Gooch, who won the pennant with Essex in 1986 before his first taste of the England captaincy two years later (although we'll gloss over the fact that, in the wake of a drastic form slump, he handed the captaincy back to Keith Fletcher for that same 1988 season).
It would probably be a terrible imposition. But let's face it, England's top order are already sacrificial lambs - players with enough stickability to take the shine off the new ball and prevent the flightier strokeplayers in the middle order from being blown away too soon, or so the theory goes. And at least in racking up a mightily respectable 390 runs in this summer's Ashes - almost twice as many as Australia's openers combined - the crosshairs that would be trained on Burns' helmet, were he to lead England Down Under in two years' time, would provide the perfect decoy for his team-mates to steal back the urn. Now that's leadership.
Chances: eminently feasible

On the plus side, he's the heir apparent in white-ball cricket - Buttler has stood in for Eoin Morgan on six occasions in ODIs already and four times in T20s, most recently against Pakistan at Trent Bridge on the eve of this year's World Cup (how did he fare that day? … oh …).
Even so, with six wins and four losses all told, Buttler is marginally in credit as a leader (and despite two ducks in his last two outings, he actually averages 47.20 to 40.88 in ODIs). He is certainly rated by Morgan as a tactical sounding-board, and the sort of proper cricket brain who, if push came to shove any time between now and 2023, could be trusted not to make a pig's ear of England's precious trophy-winning outfit.
But then there's the challenge of translating all that to Test cricket. For all his world-class attributes, Buttler is currently a luxury batsman at No.7 in England's Test batting order (any higher and he gets a nose-bleed, like most of the men around him). And he is also the third-best Test wicketkeeper on England's radar, behind Ben Foakes and Jonny Bairstow, both currently banished for distinctly differing reasons.
But perhaps the captaincy would be the making of Buttler at Test level, and of the men around him. Because, let's face it, while both Cook and Root commanded loyalty as leaders (with maybe one notable exception for the former…), neither have ever offered much in the way of strategic nous.
A few funky field placings, a bit of positive white-ball intent. Some sympathetic handling of his long-suffering quicks. A frisson of genius when the team most needs it. There's the bare bones of a good idea somewhere in there. So long as he doesn't pad up to too many straight ones when his turn comes to bat.
Chances: Strong to smoking hot

A fast bowler as captain! Sacrilege! England haven't gone down that route in Test cricket since 1984, when Bob Willis last embraced that chilling thousand-yard stare at the top of his mark. It was a state of focused fury that inevitably left David Gower pulling the strings in the field, a role he was finally handed on a permanent basis at Lord's against West Indies in 1984. (Cheers skip…)
Would Broad ever get quite so catatonic in the line of duty? Probably not. He was, after all, England's T20 captain during that brief separation of powers after the 2011 World Cup - when, in the days before anyone at the ECB gave a fig about white-ball cricket, Strauss relinquished the 50-over duties to groom Cook for the top job, and Broad, then aged 25, was handed the honours in the shortest form with a view to … not sure what, exactly.
So Broad did go on to lead England in consecutive World T20s in 2012 and 2014, but with Kevin Pietersen persona non grata at either event, his team were eliminated with a whimper at consecutive group stages, and that was the end of that. He never played the format again after the Netherlands' victory at Chattogram.
On the plus side, Broad talks a very good game (always useful for keeping the press on side). Plus, he gets under his opponents' skin with the precision and subtlety of a hypodermic needle, and tends to save his absolute best for the Australians - not since Ian Botham and, arguably, Darren Gough, has there been a more reliably up-for-it English combatant in Ashes cricket.
On the down side, Broad is 33 already, and until his that'll-show-em performances in the Ashes this summer, he had been looking like the most vulnerable member of an England seam attack that needs to find a succession plan after a decade dominated by his new-ball partnership with James Anderson. If he was ever going to be a stop-gap, that moment surely passed three years ago.
Chances: Highly probable … in a parallel universe

What is it you even want from your captain, anyway? Is it runs? Well, yes, that'd be nice - Root would be looking a whole lot more sturdy right now if he wasn't averaging 27.40 in 10 Tests this calendar year. But failing that, you're looking for a man who, whatever his personal contribution, will improve every player who crosses his path. Whether that's through the right encouragement (or chastisement) at the right moment, a timely show of faith at a start of a key bowling spell. Or a moment of tactical clarity that helps to unpick a finely balanced game.
If the summer of 2019 proved anything (beyond Stokes' world-class credentials and the shortcomings of the ICC's playing conditions), it was that Morgan was the single most important player in that triumphant World Cup campaign. He made the big selection calls (not least where Alex Hales was concerned), he owned the moments when his team appeared to falter. And even if you had wanted to pick holes in his tactics at the pivotal moments, you'd never have made it past his inscrutable poker-face.
One thing that Root has going for him as captain - perhaps the only thing, if we are being harsh but fair - is the unquestionable loyalty of his friends and team-mates in the dressing room. They like and respect him, and want to keep playing for him, even when the results don't go their way.
Morgan, however, hasn't really needed friends in the field. He just needs team-mates, a vital distinction that has enabled him to keep a subtle, and authoritative, air of detachment during his reign.
As for the realities of a Test comeback, well… he hasn't played the format for seven long years, and he hadn't even played a first-class game for Middlesex for three seasons until a less-than-fruitful return to the format late in 2018, in which time he has mustered one Championship fifty in nine matches. And given that his only public misstep during the World Cup came when Kevin Pietersen called out his technique against the short ball, you'd have to assume he'd get a lively greeting if he were ever to don those whites again.
And yet, during Morgan's brief Test career, he was part of a batting line-up that drove the agenda in England's rise to No.1 in the world, and in the process he racked up two hundreds in 16 Tests - a tally that, of all the players who've been tried and discarded since he was in the mix, only Gary Ballance (4) has exceeded. It's hardly riches, but it's a very strict definition of failure.
He wouldn't want the job. He'd be mad to take the job. But has anyone watched Morgan in action in the T20 Blast or the T10 League since the World Cup win? He's been smoking the ball like a man who's found his happy place in life. He's fulfilled his life's ambition, and at the age of 33, he's got a handful of years to savour his status in the game. But might he fancy one last challenge before he calls it quits? You're a long time retired in this sport …
Chances: Go on, you know you want to ...

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket