Now what do England do? They have failed to win any of their last nine Men’s Tests, have one victory in 17 and haven’t recorded a series success in five attempts dating back to the beginning of 2021.
And now the resignation of Joe Root as captain at a time when they are also searching for a new head coach and permanent director of cricket leaves them absolutely rudderless.
Following on from their humiliating 4-0 Ashes loss they went to the West Indies and got into winning positions twice, only to lose the series 1-0 with a trademark terrible batting collapse in the Third Test at St George’s. And Root’s departure comes at a time when he was their one bit of ballast.
This is worse than 2009, when the fall-out from the row between Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen left them without a coach and a captain. At least there was a decent side still available for selection and a natural successor to Pietersen in Andrew Strauss. But right now England have no real leadership to speak of.
Ben Stokes has served as Root’s vice-captain but has previously made it clear he has no real intention of being the permanent skipper, while his various injuries and mental health concerns in recent times suggest the rather claustrophobic nature of the Test cricket calendar, particularly during Covid times, might not sit well with him. He has benefitted from periods of time out of the spotlight, which a captain simply doesn’t get.
Now that Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson have been gently pushed towards semi-retirement, there is simply no other obvious option. Rory Burns might once have been a contender but has been unable to command a regular spot at the top of the order, Jos Buttler is a former vice-captain but his form has seen him lose his place too. Chris Woakes is the most senior of the regular bowling line-up but has a horrific record on tour, while Jonny Bairstow is another long-time squad member but his form has yo-yoed throughout his Test career.
The last thing England need is the appointment of a guaranteed out as a permanent fixture in their batting order. They have chopped and changed so much in the last few years exactly because they have been searching desperately for some consistent figures. Zak Crawley might be a contender in time but is still finding his way in the international arena, while the likes of Dan Lawrence, Dawid Malan, Dom Sibley, Haseeb Hameed and Ben Foakes have all come and gone, and come again, as the regular batting collapses have left England’s ever-changing hierarchy scrambling for answers. And the bowling line-up is no different, even if they wanted to go down the lesser-trodden route of having a non-batting captain.
In England’s 145-year Test history there has probably never been a worse time for them to be looking for a new captain. But yet you still cannot begrudge Root making this decision now.
By all accounts, the bio-bubble life of a Test cricketer is a horrible one, and the last two years have been particularly trying for Root as England’s form has got increasingly worse despite his own fantastic return with the bat. In the last 15 months alone he has hit five scores of over 150 including two double-centuries. He now has 25 Test hundreds to his name, with 14 since becoming captain in 2017.
Now, having missed only two Test matches of the 119 England have played since he made his debut in Nagpur in 2012, he has deserved his chance to step back from the spotlight and become more selective with his commitments.
“I have loved leading my country, but recently it’s hit home how much of a toll it has taken on me and the impact it has had on me away from the game,” said Root in announcing his resignation.
“I am excited to continue representing the Three Lions and producing performances that will enable the team to succeed. I look forward to helping the next captain, my teammates and coaches in whatever way I can.”
But who that captain or those coaches will be is anyone’s guess. Hell, half of the potential teammates is anyone’s guess. And therein lies the problem. The England Men’s Test side is stumbling from one disappointment to another, and now Root’s departure as skipper gives them just another major question to answer.
*18+ | BeGambleAware