BEN STOKES COLUMN: Joe Root was a brilliant England Test captain who cared about his players and gave the job absolutely everything he had until it took its toll
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When my phone started ringing and I saw Joe’s name flash up, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew he had been on holiday and he might have just been calling for a chat now that he was back.
But when he said: “Mate, I just wanted to let you know before it becomes official…” I knew what was coming.
As you can imagine it was quite an emotional conversation, but it wasn’t a long chat, there will be time for that in the future. This was an emotional few minutes and in return there was nothing but love, respect and support from me because that is what Joe Root you have shown me throughout his time as England Test captain.
It was clear that Joe had come to this decision in his own mind and had worked things out both from a cricketing point of view but also personally because the England captaincy does affect every part of your life. He gave it absolutely everything he had to try to win games for England and the fact he did so more than anyone else before him goes to show that he was pretty good at it. But in the last few months things had become really tough and I was just trying to support him as best as I could.
Our relationship goes deeper and further than just team-mates. We are good friends and have been for a long time, so it has been one of the great privileges of our careers to be able to play alongside each other and be captain and vice-captain together. We’ve had some great moments on and off the field during this time and we’ve also had some pretty difficult ones too and it is that mutual support that has helped make it so special.
I think back to an occasion such as his 100th Test in India. I was honored to be able to present him with his 100th cap before the game and say a few words, and he then went out and showed his class with a brilliant double hundred and guiding the team to victory. That is a strong memory of Joe’s captaincy.
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But there are two other examples that stand out for me. Most recently when I took my break from the game in 2021, Joe was brilliant. He said: “I just want my friend to be alright.” The cricket came second, his concern for him was for my well being full stop. And going back a few years now to the Bristol incident, that was where my captain really went to bat for me. Without going over too much old ground, that period was as tough as it gets and he couldn’t have handled things any better from my point of view with the way he supported me behind the scenes. That is where my total loyalty towards Joe comes from, and he will always have it because he has never been anything but a good man towards me and the rest of his players from him.
Now that he has stood down, I fully expect him to continue his brilliance with a bat in hand and show why he is the greatest batsman we’ve ever produced. We are lucky to have him and he’s still got so much to offer English cricket. I know there will be lots of speculation around who will take over from him, and clearly as vice-captain and someone who has stood in on a few occasions my name will be strongly talked about. But all I will say is that it is a huge honor to Captain England and whoever does it will get to enjoy that responsibility of trying to take the team forward.
The decision will be down to Rob Key as the new managing director of men’s cricket and I’m sure we’ll talk soon enough, as he will with other players and support staff. It is an exciting time for us all, at the start of a new era for the Test team. I’m back in the nets now and training ahead of my first game for Durham in the next couple of weeks and I can’t wait.