LONDON: England cricket chief Rob Key said a “talented” Test side can become a force again under new captain Ben Stokes despite a dismal run of results over the past 14 months.
Talismanic all-rounder Stokes was named Thursday as the successor to Joe Root, a close friend, in Key’s first major announcement since becoming managing director of the England men’s team.
The 30-year-old Stokes takes over the reins with England at a low ebb after an Ashes hammering in Australia and a dispiriting series defeat in the West Indies.
England, world champions in the white ball, 50-over format, have slumped to fifth in the world Test rankings after winning just one of their past 17 matches.
But Key, who played 15 Tests for England as a batter, was upbeat about the future, saying many of England’s recent troubles were related to the extra pressures of playing during the coronavirus pandemic, including having to operate in bio-secure bubbles.
“We can make decisions, we can produce good cricketers and county cricket can be a breeding ground for great international cricketers as it was before,” Key told reporters at Lord’s on Thursday.
“I’m optimistic about English cricket, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this job.”
The 42-year-old, who has given up a career as a television pundit to take up his new job, succeeds Ashley Giles, who was sacked following the 4-0 flop in Australia.
That came after series losses in India and at home against New Zealand, while India led 2-1 after four Tests in the subsequent series in England, with the fifth and final match rescheduled to July this year after coronavirus cases in the visitors’ camp.
Key is seeking to appoint separate red and white-ball coaches after Chris Silverwood was dismissed from his overarching coaching role after the Ashes rout and he remains convinced that whoever is looking after the Test side will be working with gifted players.
“I think there are talented cricketers in there,” he said. “We just haven’t got the best out of them. That’s your job if you are a coach, if you are in the set-up, that’s my job as an MD, to make them play as well as they can.
“I need to appoint a coach who creates an environment in which they can do that. I see no reason why they can’t do that.”
Key said he had no qualms about appointing Stokes to a demanding role even though it would add to the already heavy workload of the all-rounder, who last year took a break from cricket to “prioritise his mental health”.
“I talked to a lot of people that know him,” said Key. “Every single one of them said that they felt he’d be an excellent captain. Then we sat down and we were sort of aligned in our thinking.
“How we see the game – and I couldn’t do it as a player – but it’s how I wanted to play the game. He does it.
“He epitomises everything our red-ball team needs. I just want him to go out and do that and lead from the front. And I think he’ll do that.”
Stokes’s first match as the permanent England skipper will come against New Zealand, the country of his birth, at the start of a three-Test series at Lord’s on June 2.
England then face India in their delayed fixture before a three-match Test series against South Africa.