Ben Stokes of England celebrates

Ben Stokes’ to-do list as England Test captain

England news

By Martin Pegan

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As Ben Stokes is named the new England Men's Test captain, we look at five key areas he needs to focus on to turn around their form and fortunes.

The only way is up for England and their new skipper Ben Stokes, at least in the ICC World Test Championship standings where they currently sit in last position with only one victory and 18 points from 12 Test matches.

England’s first opportunity to improve on that record, and for Stokes’ to show the impact his leadership could have, will be in a three Test series against New Zealand in June. That will be quickly followed by a single postponed Test against India and then three matches against South Africa.

Here are five areas that should be at the top of Stokes’ to-do list heading into that stretch of seven Test matches that will all be played on England's home soil:

1. Lead by example

Stokes is widely respected by teammates and opponents alike for his uncompromising approach to the game, and it is an attitude that the rest of the England set up would do well to fall in behind.

This is most obvious when Stokes is playing on the front foot whether with bat or ball in hand, but his natural competitiveness is also suited to setting higher standards off the field as well as leading the team into battle in the middle.

The all-rounder is rightly renowned for his swashbuckling style in the white-ball formats but he can also adapt his game in Test matches depending on what is best for his team at the time. This can include putting a high price on his wicket to hold the middle order together or dig in to salvage a draw.

Few can play cricket at the same level as the new England Test captain, but simply drawing on Stokes’ combative determination to win - or at least 'not lose' - would only help a fresh group looking to define their collective character.

2. Build fast bowling depth

Generational change is already underway after James Anderson and Stuart Broad were left out of the tour of the West Indies, but while the future for the two veterans remains uncertain the need to grow the fast bowling stocks is clear.

Stokes will hope to call on electrifying speedster Jofra Archer soon but will most likely need to use him sparingly, and as a strike bowler rather than a workhorse, if and when that is possible.

Mark Wood has shown he has the pace to be a threat at the elite level and should be persisted with, while Saqib Mahmood also looks quick enough to have an impact with the red ball following a promising Test debut in the Caribbean.

Jamie Overton has been clocked bowling at more than 150km/h and is another that might earn an opportunity if only he can get his body right to avoid injury.

While the likes of Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and Matt Fisher might not have the raw pace to trouble the best Test batters, they are crafty enough to play a role and can add to the depth of fast bowlers that England now needs.

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CWC19: ENG v BAN - Jofra Archer's brutal 3/29

3. Back in an opener

England used four openers across the eight Tests that made up the recent Ashes series and tour of the West Indies, with only Zak Crawley posting the types of scores needed to press for a regular spot.

The 24-year-old was the only opener to pass 50 in the 16 innings England batted in those eight matches, with an assured 77 against Australia and a steady 121 against the West Indies.

Crawley’s average of 29.17 from 12 innings in those recent series, and a similar career average of 28.6 in 21 Tests, might be uninspiring but with youth on his side, a reputation for being committed to his craft and few other options to call on Stokes should push to back in the 24-year-old opener this summer.

This would ideally settle half the opening pair while the other spot remains up for grabs especially after the previously uncapped Alex Lees couldn’t build on any of his four good starts in six innings against the West Indies, and Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed both failed so dramatically in Australia.

4. Embrace emerging talent

With Joe Root free from what surely became a burden of captaincy, he can focus on matching the stunning form that produced 1708 Test runs in 2021 and earned him the ICC Men’s Test Cricketer of the Year award.

Jonny Bairstow has been one of few other England batters to look comfortable at Test level in recent times, as he averaged 46.67 in the five Tests he played against Australia and the West Indies.

With Root unshackled and Bairstow joining Stokes in the middle order, England would be well-placed to pick players that show potential to bat around them, such as Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence and the untried but in-form Josh Bohannon, as well as opener Crawley.

Leg-spinner Matt Parkinson has had a taste of international cricket in the white-ball formats, and was a reserve for the recent tour of the West Indies, but with a first-class bowling average of 23.49 should also be seen in a five-day match this summer.

Even if Stokes doesn’t have an official seat at the selection table, he will still have a strong view on the direction he wants the team to head in especially while he has credits in the bank and with a run of home Tests that present an ideal opportunity to trial England’s emerging talent.

5. Find a way to win away

While Stokes’ reign as England Men's 81st Test captain will begin with a summer full of matches played at home, he will ultimately need to lead the team to turning around their insipid away form and results.

England have lost 17 Tests away from home since 2017, the equal worst record in that time alongside Bangladesh and one that points to a team that too often fails to fight hard when a match isn’t played in their preferred conditions or on their terms.

Greater depth in the bowling ranks and backing in the batters could give Stokes the options needed for varied conditions and pitches, but preference should also be given to players with the attitude and fitness to see them through the inevitable testing times to come up when touring and playing abroad.

Video cwc19 25 Aug 19
Ashes 2019: 3rd Test, day 4 – Highlights

England Men's Test schedule

vs New Zealand
First Test: 2-6 June at Lord's Cricket Ground, London
Second Test: 10-14 June at Trent Bridge, Nottingham
Third Test: 23-27 June at Headingley, Leeds

vs India
Fifth Test (postponed): 1-5 July at Edgbaston, Birmingham

vs South Africa
First Test: 17-21 August at Lord's Cricket Ground, London
Second Test: 25-29 August at Old Trafford, Manchester
Third Test: 8-12 September at The Oval, London

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