‘I just want my friend to be OK’ – Root on Stokes’ absence

Ben Stokes and Joe Root
Ben Stokes (left) has played 69 of his 71 Tests alongside Joe Root (right)
Venue: Trent Bridge Date: 4-8 August Time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: In-play highlights, Test Match Special commentary and text coverage on the BBC Sport website and app. Watch daily highlights on Today at the Test at 19:00 BST on BBC Two

England Test captain Joe Root says “I just want my friend to be OK” after Ben Stokes took an indefinite break from cricket for mental health reasons.

On Saturday all-rounder Stokes, 30, withdrew from the squad for the five-Test series against India, which starts on Wednesday at Trent Bridge.

“He’s one of my closest friends in the game,” Root told BBC Sport.

“I hope he can get himself back to being Ben Stokes again – that’s all we all want.”

Root added: “As long as I’ve known Ben, he puts everyone else first, and now is an opportunity to put himself first.

“He has my full support and he has the whole team’s full support on that. It’s important he takes as long as he needs.

“This is an opportunity to be with his family and give himself the opportunity to feel like the best version of Ben Stokes.

“We know from a cricketing point of view how good that is, and from a personal point of view he’s one of the greatest blokes I’ve ever played cricket with.”

Since England returned to international cricket in July last year following the coronavirus outbreak, the players have spent much of their time in bio-secure bubbles with limited movement during and between matches.

Root, who spoke with Stokes before his withdrawal, said it was “really important that we keep talking about” mental health.

“People are aware how difficult it can be for players for a sustained period of time,” said Root. “From the outset we’ve mentioned that it’s not a sustainable thing.

“It’s really important that we keep trying to find ways of looking after all of our players, to prevent guys from burning out or struggling in other areas as well.”

Vice-captain Stokes, who averages 37.04 with the bat and 31.38 with the ball in 71 Tests, is second in the International Cricket Council Test all-rounder rankings behind West Indies’ Jason Holder.

Stokes missed England’s 1-0 Test series defeat by New Zealand in June with a fractured finger, but returned to captain a new-look England to a 3-0 one-day series win over Pakistan last month.

While Root said Stokes’ absence “does make it difficult”, he added: “It doesn’t mean we can’t go on and have a very good start to this series.

“There’s been many occasions when we’ve managed to find ways of winning without Ben.

“I’m always confident when we’re playing at home. We’ve got some wonderfully talented cricketers.”

India opener Mayank Agarwal has been ruled out of the first Test with concussion after being hit on the helmet while batting in the nets on Monday.

Prithvi Shaw, who was called up to the squad in place of Shubman Gill after three players withdrew with injury last week, could open alongside Rohit Sharma.

‘No decision yet on Ashes tour’

England’s players have held talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) over this winter’s Ashes tour of Australia, with some considering pulling out if their families are not allowed to travel to Australia.

Australia has some of the strictest Covid-19 protocols in the world, and players who take part in the T20 World Cup then the Ashes, which starts in December, face the prospect of being away from home for four months.

Root said none of the players had made a decision on whether to pull out of the Ashes.

“Every single player as a kid, they want to go Australia; they want to win the Ashes; they want to lift the urn out there,” he said.

“We’re all desperate to go and do that – it’s just to what cost, and what environment we’re going to be living in off the back of 18 months of being in these bubbled environments.

“We need to work closely with the ECB so they can be very aware of where we’re at, and they can have good honest conversations with Cricket Australia.

“Once we know where we stand, what it’s going to look like, then we’ll make a decision. We’ll have to see how things unfold over the coming weeks.”

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