When Joe Root called me on Thursday to inform me of his decision to resign as England Test captain, I told him he’d achieved something special in being a leader who was universally liked.
Over the past five years, it has been his responsibility to give people disappointing news on selection — myself included — but I would vouch that without exception every single person who has played under his captaincy would be in unanimous agreement over what a nice guy he is.
I can hear team-mates saying: ‘He’s a legend.’ That’s quite a rare feat to achieve in the world of sport because success and popularity do not go hand in hand and I can say with confidence that not everyone I’ve played with would be complimentary about me.
Joe Root previously stood down as England captain for the recent slump in Test and the Ashes
Broad, 35, has been earmarked as a short-term option, despite his brief Ashes appearances
Beyond the dressing room, Joe has been an amazing ambassador for the game of cricket. The best, I would suggest, that we’ve had.
This would not have been a decision that he took lightly, and I don’t think anyone in history will have relinquished the England Test captaincy without it playing a lot on their mind beforehand.
As well as being a huge honour, it is such a big job, and doesn’t just have an effect on the incumbent themselves but direct family too because it is so time consuming.
For the last five years, I’ve noticed on days before Test matches start that when other players are off to relax with a cup of coffee or a game of golf, Joe has been in meeting after meeting or in this or that media session.
Root was a great captain for England, but decided to call time on the role a few days ago
It’s a stressful job. One that can make you lose your hair — if Nasser Hussain and others in the modern era are anything to go by. And that’s why so few have done it for as long as he has.
Worldwide you get the odd captain like Graeme Smith who took the armband in 2003 at the age of 22 and held on to it until retirement in 2014, but Smith is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to shelf life.
When Joe looks back on his tenure, he will be able to reflect on some significant feathers in the cap. There were some great moments when he led his team to victories.
Sure, the last couple of years have not been our most fortuitous as an international team but there were not insignificant hurdles to climb in trying to make the team successful. Covid was not in the job description when Joe, Ashley Giles and Chris Silverwood began their respective roles. None of them signed up for the extremely tough hands they were dealt.
Broad hailed Root, insisting his dedication and attention to detail was key in helping England
For a period, it was Test cricket but not as we know it because of players being locked away in rooms during series, living in biosecure bubbles, away from families and freedoms.
It required a different mentality and was physically draining. Consider also that during Covid times, England played 27 Tests between December 26, 2019 and mid-February 2022. Australia played 11 in the equivalent period.
If you look at great sports teams in the past quarter of a century, you would generally be able to name six or seven players in each off the top of your head.
Think of the Manchester United side at the turn of the century, the England rugby union team that won the World Cup in 2003 or the England cricket team that were 50-over world champions in 2019. They all had a settled status that allowed players to calmly go about their business.
Broad is eyeing a place back in the England squad, and is not focussed on becoming captain
Yes, you are always going to rotate bowlers and there will always be a batsman under pressure for their place but generally we’ve gone through a period of great uncertainty and a huge amount of change due to issues caused by the pandemic.
How often would Joe be able to say, hand on heart, that he had his best team available? Building into that Ashes series last winter, pretty much never.
So, it’s unfair to dwell on the last couple of years of Joe’s captaincy for that reason. Yes, he may have lost more Tests than any other England captain but neither can any of his predecessors match his 27 wins.
And I prefer to remember the hundred he struck on his captaincy debut versus South Africa in 2017, him inspiring the 2-0 win in Sri Lanka last year, with a double hundred followed by another, then another double in Chennai to beat India in their own backyard before the pitches became a shambles.
Root took over from Sir Alastair Cook in 2017, and is ‘looking forward to helping next captain’
He led the team brilliantly in South Africa during 2019-20, and through the first summer of the pandemic to beat both West Indies and Pakistan, when Covid was a new and nerve-inducing thing and he showed great leadership on and off the field.
My prediction is that he will go on and really enjoy his cricket for the next couple of years, playing with an amount of freedom to drive at new goals — whether they are to play at the IPL, get back into the England Twenty20 team, whatever.
It’s hard to see how he will improve his batsmanship as his last couple of years have been outrageously good but it’s a challenge he will no doubt relish.
People may question my relationship with Joe given recent history but I’ve always been good at differentiating between friendship and business and of course while I was frustrated by decisions to leave me out of Ashes matches and for the tour of West Indies, I didn’t show bitterness towards Joe. From my point of view, that’s professional sport and it would never stop me enjoying a nice glass of red wine or playing a round of golf with those who came to such decisions.
Root also said the decision to stand down was the most challenging one of his career
Naturally, I am aware that my name has been touted as a potential successor to Joe as England captain and I guess that is because I am an experienced centrally contracted player who has been around the international game a long time.
However, it is not something I have given any thought to because firstly I am not currently in possession of a shirt within the England Test team and my focus is very much on changing that by taking wickets for Nottinghamshire over the next few weeks.
In fact, I would argue we are in a fairly unique position as far as selection for the Test team goes right now in that there are only two players whose names you could write in pen on the scorecard.
One of them is Joe Root, the other is Ben Stokes — and one of them isn’t going to be captain for the first Test of the summer against New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2 because he has just given the job away.