JOE ROOT has revealed the emotional ‘phone call that made him realise Ben Stokes needed a break from cricket’.
Stokes has been the star man for England over the past two yearsCredit: Getty
Superstar all-rounder Stokes is unlikely to play again this summer as he prioritises his mental welfare.
Apart from the upset at hearing Stokes in such distress, Root has a huge hole in his team for the First Test against India at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.
It is one of several issues for Root and head coach Chris Silverwood – which also includes a wobbly batting line-up and how to fit spinner Jack Leach into the starting XI.
Root knows it is not the ideal start to ten Tests spread over six months – five at home to India and five in Australia – that could define his leadership.
Root said: “I had a conversation with Ben and that’s when I found out. The call will stay between the two of us but it was hard to see a friend like that.
“I just want my friend to be OK. Anyone who knows Ben, he always puts other people in front of himself.
“Now is an opportunity to put himself first, take time to look after himself and get to a good place again. Hopefully, that can be sooner rather than later.
“Cricket has to be a secondary thought and he should take as much time as he needs. He has my full support and he’s been assured he has the full support of the ECB.
“And certainly, he’s got the whole team’s support. More than anything, we just want Ben to be OK. Everyone is behind him.
“There’s no-one who compares to Ben Stokes in world cricket. For a long time now, he’s been incredible, he’s the heartbeat of this team. But his absence presents opportunities for others to step up to the plate and put in big performances.”
It might be that Surrey all-rounder Sam Curran bats at No.7, which would allow England to include Leach.
Root insists he is focusing purely on the India series but the issue of the Ashes and whether players’ families can go rumbles in the background.
He made it clear that he is desperate to tour Australia.
Root explained: “Until we know the lay of the land, it is hard to make a decision. But what I will say is that playing in Australia, having the opportunity to lift that urn, is one thing you dream about from being four or five years old. That does not change.
“Of course, there are challenges but everyone is desperate to be part of an Ashes series in Australia. We’re still very passionate about Ashes cricket, we know our responsibilities as players and want to look after the integrity of Test cricket.”
India opener Mayank Agarwal is out of the First Test after suffering concussion when hit on the head by fast bowler Mohammad Siraj while batting in the nets.