‘It’s a great wake-up call’: Joe Root praises Ben Stokes’ openness

Joe Root has praised Ben Stokes’s courage in dealing so frankly with his off‑pitch issues in his new Amazon documentary, predicting the England Test captain’s openness “will better the environment we’re playing in”.

Root has seen the film, Phoenix from the Ashes, which is released on Friday. “There’s a lot in there even I as someone who’s generally quite close to him wasn’t aware of,” he said.

“There’s obviously certain things he hasn’t always found easy, to tell everyone where he’s at, how he’s feeling. It’s just a great example that, regardless of what may be perceived on the outside, everyone has vulnerabilities and can get themselves into a very difficult place. It’s a great wake-up call that you’ve got to reach out to the guys around you if you see something.

“When you see everything he’s dealt with and think that’s only in a four- or five-year period, it’s quite remarkable he is where he is now having been through all that. It’s very powerful what he’s done.

“To share his journey, everything he’s had to go through, not just with us as a team but the rest of the world, I can’t see how it won’t better the environment we’re playing in.

“It shows great courage, great bravery. We were all there with him going through it, it’s not easy to see a close friend and teammate like that but look at him now. It’s great to have him leading this team and making Test cricket so enjoyable to play and to watch.”

Stokes is not the first England player to step away from the game because of stress. Marcus Trescothick ended his international career in 2008 and five years later, when Root was relatively fresh to the international side, Jonathan Trott left the squad midway through an Ashes series.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” Root said. “I was a very young and naive lad in that team and wasn’t really aware of what Trotty was going through. But guys like him, Trescothick and others, speaking up and sharing what they’ve had to go through, has made it easier and better for other players to deal with hardships of their own. This is another example. Hopefully we’ll keep improving and helping other guys that are struggling.”

Stokes has now appointed, but not publicly announced, a vice-captain – Root would say only that “they know who they are” – as the team prepares for the second Test against South Africa, which starts at Old Trafford on Thursday. Root was twice dismissed for single-digit scores as England emphatically lost the first Test last week, but is relishing the prospect of facing the same bowlers once again.

“It’s one of the fun bits about Test cricket as a batter, figuring out how you want to score your runs and then being good enough to execute it,” he said. “It’s a very good attack, very well balanced, but that makes it even more enjoyable when you have success.”

The 31-year-old has adapted rapidly to the positive approach encouraged by Stokes and the team’s new head coach, Brendon McCullum, with a strike rate this summer of 72.8 (up from a career average of 55.4) and a batting average of 83.3 (up from 50.3). He has produced some extraordinary shots, most memorably the reverse ramp against New Zealand and India, and says batting without the burdens of the captaincy he resigned in April has “given me another opportunity to look at it slightly differently”.

Root said of the reverse ramp: “Ultimately you’re trying to play low-risk options and it might not look like it, because it’s not a regular shot you see in Test cricket, but there are no fielders there so it didn’t feel like much of a risk.

“You’re trying to find a way to manipulate the field to get it where you want it to be to make life easier for yourself. I guess trying to look at the game slightly differently has helped this summer.”