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Explained: What are the chances of Ben Stokes replacing Joe Root as Test captain?

With the England Test team in crisis, those walking the tightrope are captain Joe Root, head coach Chris Silverwood and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: December 29, 2021 8:39:25 pm
England's Joe Root, right, and Ben Stokes stand for the anthems at the start of their cricket test match in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021. (AP)

England lost the Ashes in 12 days, after the team served their quarantine in Gold Coast for 14 days. 68 all out in Melbourne has added to the insult, resulting in an expected overflow of criticism. With the England Test team in crisis, those walking the tightrope are captain Joe Root, head coach Chris Silverwood and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison.

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What has contributed to England’s decline as a Test team?

Poor batting. For far too long, England’s Test batting has been a one-man show, Root or bust. The captain has scored 1,708 runs in 15 Tests in 2021, including six hundreds. Rory Burns is the second-highest scorer with 530 runs from 10 Tests. A rewind to the Lord’s Test against India earlier this year encapsulates England’s batting plight. Root had scored 180 not out in the first innings and yet, his team lost by 151 runs. England have 54 Test ducks this calendar year.

Is there dressing-room unrest?

According to reports, the England dressing-room wasn’t a good place to be in after the pink-ball Test in Adelaide. There was reportedly a spill-over from Root’s post-match comment: “I don’t think we bowled the right lengths. If we’re being brutally honest, we needed to bowl fuller.” Ben Stokes, Root’s deputy, spoke about an honest conversation after the second Test. And now, according to a Daily Mail report, split loyalties have emerged in the England dressing-room, with players backing Root to stay as captain but seemingly have lost faith in Silverwood. Ashley Giles, the team’s managing director, is due to arrive in Sydney in a few days to take stock of the situation.

What are the chances of Stokes replacing Root as Test captain?

Geoffrey Boycott thinks Root should go, but the call for a change is mainly coming from former Australia cricketers, apparently a common Aussie tactic of targeting the rival captain during the Ashes. Then again, on the fourth day of the second Test, when Root was hit on the box at the nets before the start of play and Stokes led for a while, England looked tactically a lot smarter. Speaking on Triple M Cricket, former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin said as much: “What they did really well tactically was the fourth morning. Who was off? Joe Root.”

England’s not out batsmen Joe Root, left, and Ben Stokes leave the field at stumps on the second day of their cricket test match against Australia in Melbourne, Australia. (AP)

Stokes has led England before in Root’s absence. But he had his mental health struggles, forcing him into a break. Also, his world-class ability notwithstanding, the allrounder hasn’t done much yet in the ongoing Ashes to become a shoo-in. Just 101 runs and four wickets in three Tests have been underwhelming for a player of Stokes’ skill-set.

What about Silverwood?

The ECB gave unprecedented power to Silverwood, when it abolished its selection panel and handed sole authority to the head coach. Results suggest that the restructuring hasn’t augured well. Following the Ashes debacle, Silverwood’s position appears to be the most vulnerable. Former England players have been hitting out at him. On Sky Sports Cricket Podcast, ex-England batsman Rob Key called the head coach “out of his depth”. Another former England opener Nick Compton, too, has called for a change, while mentioning that Giles is part of the problem as well.

Some former England cricketers want Gary Kirsten as Silverwood’s replacement. India became the ICC’s top-ranked Test team under the South African’s watch and also won the 2011 World Cup. In a Twitter post, an England fan voted for Ravi Shastri.

Does English cricket need a structural reset?

A few months ago, during an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding, also a long-standing Sky Sports commentator who retired this year, described the ECB’s backing for red-ball cricket as “lip service”. The reality is that during peak summer, multi-day County matches are no longer the flavour of English domestic cricket. White-ball tournaments have taken precedence. Then, there’s The Hundred, the ECB’s potential cash cow, which aims to woo fans who have just a passing interest in the game. Dawid Malan returning to the Test fold during the home series against India, on the heels of just one red-ball innings for Yorkshire this year, highlighted the ECB’s botched-up priorities.

“The (first-class) County Championship has been marginalised to the fringes of the season for the convenience of playing more limited-overs cricket. The ability to produce a solid defence has given way to the desire to hit ramps, scoops and towering sixes … The message from the authorities is the shortest formats are the only interesting or exciting versions of cricket,” former England fast bowler Jonathan Agnew wrote in a BBC column.

Is Harrison facing revolt?

Back in November, The Guardian reported that the ECB chief executive was facing the prospect of a County rebellion, as anger grew over the parent body’s handling of the Yorkshire racism scandal. Now, there’s a school of thought that Harrison would be under even more pressure following the Test team’s Ashes implosion.

Does English cricket need a radical overhaul?

Some radical suggestions have been put forward already, one of them being to send England players to play the Ranji Trophy. The Indian cricket’s national championship does allow teams to sign up overseas players, and cricketers from England and the West Indies have played in the Ranji Trophy in the past. Former England women’s team cricketer Isa Guha believes it would be a good idea. “Have been thinking – with the likes of Marnus Labuschagne, Ashwin Ravichandran & Cheteshwar Pujara honing their skills in different conditions would it not be worth cricketers spending time playing Shield & Ranji Trophy? Lions/A tours are good but also protective,” she tweeted.

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