Stokes, Root’s vice-captain, was asked ahead of this week’s Sydney Test whether he would want to lead his country if Root, whose side are 3-0 down and lost the Ashes inside 12 days of cricket, decided to resign at the end of the series.
The reply was clear. “I’ve never really had an ambition to be a captain,” he said. “That’s totally Joe’s decision [whether he stays on]. He shouldn’t be forced into doing it. I’m sure Cooky [Alastair Cook] felt the same way. He did it for so long. When he knew his time was up, his time was up. Those discussions haven’t been entered anywhere near Joe yet.”
It is understood Root, who is entering his fifth year in the job, is determined to carry on as captain at this stage and has the backing of both the dressing-room and the England & Wales Cricket Board.
Whether or not that changes after the final two Tests against Australia – and a possible 5-0 series whitewash – remains to be seen. Yet Stokes believes Root has no intention of stepping down.
“He’s brought this team a long way,” he said. “He’s done some great things. Obviously this series hasn’t gone too well. Not from a captaincy point of view but from a team and results point of view. Unfortunately, the captain and coach bear the scrutiny for that but there are 10 other guys out there in the field beside the captain and I’ve not sensed that from Joe whatsoever.”
The all-rounder was also forthright in his support not just of Root but coach Chris Silverwood, whose job is on the line after talk that he has lost the confidence of a number of England’s players.
Stokes admitted he understood speculation about both Root and Silverwood’s positions given how badly this series has gone but was supportive of both.
“That’s your job – to say ‘should people step down,’” he said. “At the end of the day, the most important opinions are those guys’ in the dressing room and they’ve got our thorough support.
“Captaincy is more than about setting fields, picking the team, making decisions out there in the middle. A captain is someone you want to go out and play for. Joe Root is someone I always want to play for. Chris Silverwood exactly the same. He’s a real players’ coach. He stands up for you as individuals and players as well.
“All the hype in the media recently about their futures, it’s your job to write that. But they know full well they have the support of everyone in there and that’s all that matters.”
England’s preparations not just for this upcoming fourth Test but also during the previous one in Melbourne, when a Covid outbreak occurred in the wider touring party mid-match, have been badly hit. “Not great,” said Stokes. “Not great at all is it? It’s been an interesting week I guess, with everything up in the air with Covid.
“It’s quite a tough one to explain, to be honest, having a few of our coaching staff go down. It’s not ideal but it’s Sydney at New Year, so you’ve got to look for the positives – in a non-Covid sense.
“I would say off-field stuff has an impact. Obviously, it has impacted our preparations and even the last Test match – we were on the bus [on the way to the ground on day two] and we get called off the bus, then we find out we’ve got a positive test. The next couple of days we didn’t really know what was going on.
“When you get away from the field and come back to more issues it’s like you’re never able to switch off. Obviously you are worried about the cricket and then when you come back you just want to switch off. Since that game last week there always seems to be something that has cropped up outside the cricket, which is out of your control. I think it does have an effect on individuals and certainly on a group of players as well. I’m sure it’s the same for Australia.”
Silverwood tests positive
England’s preparations for this week’s fourth Ashes Test in Sydney have been disrupted by more Covid cases, with coach Chris Silverwood now testing positive.
A tumultuous Sunday started with Adam Hollioake being prevented from joining up with the squad as a temporary coach after being identified as a close contact, before England’s practice at the SCG descended into farce when all the net bowlers were pulled out mid-session after two of them tested positive.
Cricket Australia insisted: “Earlier today, the net bowlers provided for England’s training session were withdrawn, following two of the bowlers returning positive Covid tests as part of Cricket Australia’s pre-entry screening protocols.
“Both bowlers have recently recovered from Covid infections and therefore did not pose any risk to the England playing group.”
However, the sense England were put at risk by their hosts was not helped by the understanding that all the bowlers were allowed into the SCG before results of rapid lateral flow tests were received. Cricket Australia also declined to comment when asked why the bowlers were withdrawn if they posed no risk to England’s players. It’s just another example of the chaos in the background during this series brought about by Covid.
Silverwood’s emergence as the latest case in the touring party capped a day that had also seen Australia legend Glenn McGrath test positive, meaning he is now likely to miss the Sydney Test that is turned pink every year in honour of his late wife Jane and the cancer charity founded in her name.
Another member of Silverwood’s family also returned a positive test, taking the cases in the England party to nine since the first was discovered late on Boxing Day, with all of them still isolating in Melbourne. As a close contact, Silverwood was going to miss Sydney anyway.
But the absence of Hollioake, who drove down from the Gold Coast over the weekend to join up with the squad, leaves England extremely short staffed in the days leading up to this fourth Test.
Hollioake had been recruited by acting head coach Graham Thorpe after three coaches – Jon Lewis (bowling), Jeetan Patel (spin) and Darren Veness (fitness) were all identified as Covid cases last week.
With Hollioake now isolating in the team hotel after the person he spent the seven-hour car journey down to Sydney with tested positive, England have just three coaches with the squad – Thorpe, James Foster and Ant Botha. With no net bowlers either, the preparation period leading into the Test will be far from ideal.
Australia’s Travis Head and match referee David Boon have also tested positive and with New South Wales recording more than 40,000 positive cases on New Year’s Day, the viability of the whole tour is being openly questioned by many involved in it.
England have now been tested for seven of the last eight days and while there are no cases among the actual players yet, the whole situation is deeply unsettling.
There was a major outbreak in the media centre during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. At least six journalists have tested positive, with more cases expected in the coming days.
While the Sydney Test is expected to go ahead, the final match of the series in Hobart may be under threat, particularly if there are more cases identified this week among both squads.