'I just want my friend to be ok': Root backs Stokes after England exit

·3-min read
England's Joe Root (L) chats with Ben Stokes (R)

England captain Joe Root has told Ben Stokes to take as long as he needs away from cricket after the all-rounder opted to prioritise his mental health.

Stokes on Friday said he was taking "an indefinite break from all cricket with immediate effect" because of the stress of his role as one of England's most high-profile stars.

Stokes will miss England's five Tests against India, which start in Nottingham on Wednesday.

After that, England face a winter series against Pakistan, the T20 World Cup, five Tests in Australia and three in the West Indies.

That relentless grind may have weighed on Stokes, who was a regular in all three formats of the game.

The 30-year-old also had surgery on his left index finger in April after suffering a fracture while playing for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League.

"From my point of view, I just want my friend to be OK. Anyone who knows Ben, he always puts other people in front of himself and first," Root told reporters on Monday.

"Now is an opportunity for him to put himself first, to take time to look after himself and get to a good place again. Hopefully that can be sooner rather than later.

"Cricket has to be a secondary thought, a long way down the line, and he should take as much time as he needs.

"He's got my full support on that and he's been assured he’s got the full support of the ECB on that. And certainly, he's got the whole team's support.

"More than anything, we just want Ben to be OK. He's got everyone behind him."

- 'Hard to see' -

Stokes has played 71 Tests and is second in the International Cricket Council Test all-rounder rankings behind the West Indies' Jason Holder.

He missed England's Test series loss to New Zealand in June with the finger injury, but returned to captain the one-day team to a 3-0 series win over Pakistan last month.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have backed Stokes' leave of absence. Root said he would be there to help his team-mate after speaking to him recently.

"I had a conversation with Ben and that's when I found out. The call will stay between the two of us but for me it was hard to see a friend like that," Root said.

"I'll be there for him as much as he wants."

Root conceded Stokes' absence would be felt in a tough series against India.

"In my opinion, there's no one that compares to Ben Stokes in world cricket," Root said.

"Obviously for a long time now, he's been incredible, he's the heartbeat of this team. But that does present opportunities for others to step up to the plate and put in big performances.

"We have found ways to win without Ben there. This is another opportunity for us to try and do that."

Meanwhile, the possibility of England players' families being shut out of the tour to Australia due to coronavirus restrictions is a growing concern for Root's squad.

"From a players' point of view, and my point of view, until we know what the lay of the land is, until we know the scenario, it's very hard to make any sort of decision," he said.

"Of course there are challenges, but everyone is desperate to be part of an Ashes series in Australia.

"It's just at what cost. Until we know what the lay of the land is it's very difficult to make any decision."

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