Ben Stokes is expected to be named as England Test captain on Thursday when Rob Key holds his first media conference since becoming managing director of men’s cricket.
Stokes was offered the role by Key on Tuesday during face-to-face talks in the north-east and though he always played down any captaincy ambitions during his time as Joe Root’s deputy, the 30-year-old all-rounder has accepted the challenge.
The appointment of a Test captain requires sign-off from the England and Wales Cricket Board’s independent board but while it is in flux – Martin Darlow was announced on Wednesday as the new interim chair – Key’s fresh mandate since taking charge of the men’s national teams 10 days ago has made this a formality.
Given a paucity of credible alternatives in the Test side, Stokes was always the outright favorite to take over after an exhausted Root called time on his five-year tenure in the wake of England’s winless winter in Australia and the Caribbean.
Nevertheless, Key still needed to meet Stokes to establish his hunger for this additional responsibility, both as a linchpin of the Test side with bat and ball and having taken a four-month break last year for his mental health.
Stokes has captained the Test team – a four-wicket defeat against West Indies in Southampton two years ago when Root was on paternity leave – but it remains his only first-class match in charge. That said, he has long been a leader in the dressing room and earned plaudits when captaining a rookie one-day international team to a 3-0 series win against Pakistan last year after a Covid-19 outbreak ruled out the first-choice squad.
His first appearance as the permanent England captain and an 80th cap will come against his country of birth, New Zealand, when a three-Test series gets under way at Lord’s on 2 June. It remains to be seen if Stokes will have a head coach alongside him, however, with the interview process for the vacancy not starting until 9 May.
While the likes of Gary Kirsten, Graham Ford and Simon Katich vie for that role, another needing to be filled is that of Test vice-captain. Often used to blood future leaders, it may require an experienced head, initially, given the likelihood that Stokes, a full-throttle cricketer who is nursing a knee problem, may well miss games along the way.
Root appears unlikely to step in here while he focuses his energies on batting and the only other batter assured of his spot is Jonny Bairstow after centuries in Sydney and Antigua this year. Should the England hierarchy decide to invest in a younger player, Zak Crawley – mentored by Key during his career – is a candidate.
There is also an expectation that Stuart Broad – down to start his season with Nottinghamshire on Thursday – and Jimmy Anderson will feature in the Test team this summer, with Stokes understood to be in favor of the veteran pair returning to the selection fold after they were controversially dropped for the Caribbean tour.
It is one of a number of topics likely to be covered by Key at Lord’s on Thursday during his first public appearance as director of men’s cricket, along with the 42-year-old’s decision to split the head-coach roles by way of format and his overall vision for the men’s game both internationally and at the domestic level.
Some semblance of a plan will be welcome, with the ECB still suffering from a yawning leadership vacuum at the very top. On Wednesday the governing body confirmed it has been forced to restart the recruitment process for the role of permanent ECB chair that has been vacant since Ian Watmore resigned last October.
Ron Khalifa, a non-executive director on the board for the past 18 months, was previously in charge of the search but now appears likely to run for chair himself after a statement from ECB confirmed “no single candidate was able to fully meet the criteria ”. Barry O’Brien, interim chair for the past eight months, has also stepped down for health reasons, with his deputy, Darlow, taking over until the role is filled.
Meanwhile, England all-rounder Chris Woakes has signed a two-year contract extension with Warwickshire until at least the end of the 2024 season.