Ben Stokes: England’s unlikely Test captain changing the team’s psyche

Ben Stokes after his most famous innings, winning the third Ashes Test at Headingley in 2019

Ben Stokes is the England Test captain and yet he is not an England Test captain at all.

There is a long-held preconception of what the right man should look like, a head-boy persona so clearly defined that young pretenders like Joe Root and Alastair Cook were burdened with the tag FEC (future England captain) years before they assumed the role. Those tipped for the job have tended to be batsmen with neat and tidy technique and a stoic temperament, the sort that embodies English cricket’s clean-cut veneer. What long-serving captains have all had in common – Root, Cook, Andrew Strauss, Michael Atherton, Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain, Graham Gooch – is that they were highly dependable and broadly predictable. The great mavericks like Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen eventually got a crack at the job, but it didn’t last.

Stokes is in the latter mould, a genius multi-talented cricketer who can turn a game or even an entire series to his will in a couple of overs. On the pitch he has produced magical highs, like his astonishing 135 at Headingley in 2019 to save the third Ashes Test and his defining 84 in the World Cup final a few weeks earlier, and a few desperate lows, like the final over of England’s T20 World Cup final defeat in 2016 when West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite smashed four sixes off Stokes’ first four balls, leaving him devastated.

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