Stokes, who was officially introduced in his new role at a press conference in Chester-le-Street, dismissed doubts about the wisdom of handing over the captaincy to the team’s main player as a “media thing”, but insisted that when it comes to managing his workload – including balancing his role on the white ball team and the opportunity at the IPL – “Test cricket is my number one priority”.
“This is an exciting time for me, but it’s a challenge, especially after a few years,” Stokes told Sky Sports News. “But for me, it’s not about focusing on what’s in the past. It’s all about focusing on what we have going forward and obviously it starts now, and then it starts [at Lord’s] June 2nd. “
Although Stokes had once captained the English test team, against West Indies in 2020 when Joe Root was absent on parental leave, he never actively courted the full-time role. However, despite admitting he took a moment to consider the size of the position when Rob Key, the new English director of cricket, called to offer him the captaincy, Stokes confirmed he did not hesitate to accept.
“Obviously you need to think a little bit because it’s not a role you can just ‘yes,'” he said, “because you have to think about everything else that comes with the job. But no, it’s not,” I don’t need very long. And it’s not exactly a role you can turn down.
“There is a lot that needs to change, not just from the field,” he added, alluding to broader organizational issues that have hampered England’s progress in recent years – including the acclaimed high-performance audit the ECB is due to undertake this year.
“Such things will happen, and these debates will be held, they can’t really be talked about here,” he added. “But when it comes to things on the field, a great starting point for me is that I want to have selfless cricketers who make decisions based on what they can do to win a game at a given time.
“Because, at the end of the day, you are always judged by winning matches. That has always been the most important thing to me. The decisions I make are based on what is best to do to give us that chance. I want to have 10 more guys with me who are the same way thoughts.”
Two players who look ready to return are James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Both have been controversially neglected for the Caribbean tour, but Stokes wants to give them a chance to extend their extraordinary careers.
“The best way to give yourself a winning test game is to pick your 11 best players,” he said. “If James Anderson and Stuart Broad are ready., They are for selection because they are the two best bowlers in England. They are the two greats of the game, and in my opinion, it is foolish to never consider them for selection. They are part of the top 11, so it’s pretty simple. “
Despite England’s poor recent record, which included losing to Ashes 4-0 in Australia this winter, and another lost Caribbean tour – a place they haven’t won a series since 2004 – Stokes insisted the circumstances in which the team played its cricket in recent years he has been a major factor, and has defended the players and team spirit that his predecessor Root will pass on to him.
“I do not think so [about] a change in culture because we have a very, very good culture in the locker room, not only in our things with the red ball, but also in the team with the white balls, ”Stokes said.
“You have to understand that, after going through what the English national cricket team went through with COVID and everything, and with results and things like that, it will have an effect. But my role is to achieve that from everyone as quickly as possible and make sure to focus on what lies ahead.
“The great saying I live by, especially with cricket, is that you’re only as good as the next game. It works well with good and bad performances.”
The Stokes are due to play their first match of the season for Durham against Worcestershire this week, as he had a knee injury that hit him during a Caribbean tour. And given that he endured a prominent absence from the game last summer, after a severely broken finger and subsequent mental health problems, there were some understandable concerns about whether it was reasonable to expect him to take on another burden within the team.
However, Stokes insisted that far from being a reason to refuse additional responsibility, his high-profile problems would leave him in an even better position to help other players manage cricket pressures at the elite level.
“There’s always a negative feeling about mental health,” he said. “But I took a break, I went and talked to people, and I’m going to keep doing it. I see it as positive that I’m in this role now, after going through what I went through last summer, and even before that, that I have a huge experience in what you play and what life can throw.
“And I’ve always felt like someone with whom older players and younger players could come and talk, if they felt something was happening to them or they weren’t happy with anything, and I hope it continues. I don’t see any of this as negative. “I just see it as a great positive to be able to connect with the many different scenarios that cricket and life can throw at you while you’re an international cricketer.”
Moreover, Stokes has once again insisted that he is his own man and is not predestined to follow in the footsteps of the last two prominent players for all who will take over the England captaincy.
“People who write all these things obviously take it from other people who played the role and were versatile,” he said. “I’ve had to live with the Andrew Flintoff and Sir Ian Botham label since I was 18. But I’ve always claimed that I’ve never tried to be Andrew Flintoff or Sir Ian Botham. I’m Ben Stokes.
“My workload will not increase because I will continue to play the same amount of cricket, but in terms of what is at the top of my priority list, it is the test team and the test cricket that are moving forward.
“I’m sure there will be conversations with people like Rob Kay and Eoin [Morgan]who is the captain of the team with the white balls, to see where there is some potential to have free time to prepare, because I know that here I have a big role in getting this test team back on the winning path.
“I will put all my effort and energy into it. So obviously we have to be very careful about how much I work, but in terms of increasing the workload, that won’t change because I will continue to play cricket for England no matter what.”
Andrew Miller is the British editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket