LEEDS: When Joe Root leads England out for the first time as Test captain he will be able to turn to a familiar face in Ben Stokes.
Yorkshire batsman Root first came across Stokes in an U12s tournament when the all-rounder was representing Cumbria.
Stokes may have had to move to nearby Durham in order to pursue a first-class cricket career, but Root reckons many of the fiery all-rounder's enduring traits as a player were on show from an early age.
And knowing him as well as he does, Root was happy to nominate Stokes as his vice-captain after he himself accepted the top job last weekend following the resignation as Test skipper of Alastair Cook.
England and Wales Cricket board director Andrew Strauss, himself a former England captain, was of the same opinion as the leadership of the side moved decisively to a younger generation ahead of the teams next Test, against South Africa at Lord's in July.
Recalling his first impression of Stokes, 26-year-old Root, not bothering to suppress a grin, said: "He was a little podgy medium-pacer back then. He's obviously a slightly different player right now," added Root, speaking at his Headingley home ground.
However, Stokes’ fiery streak was evident back then too. "He was always in your face, letting you know he was there — and that was great to play against,” he said. “We get on well outside of cricket as well. When we bat together we have a good understanding, and it will be exactly the same in these new roles.”
Root has had a close-up view of Stokes's skill on the Test stage, be it his blistering double century against South Africa in Cape Town last year or his five-wicket haul in England's 2015 Ashes-clinching victory at Trent Bridge, a match destined to be remembered for Stuart Broad's remarkable 8-15 on the first day.
"He's very 'in your face', and sometimes you need that up-front brashness. That second-innings display from Ben — the 'five-for', the skill he showed — I am sure in any other Test match he would have got man-of-the-match," added Root, modestly omitting his century in the same match. "Then, the way he played in South Africa was just incredible — and he is that sort of player that with the odd moment in the field can really change a game, turn it on its head."
Cook said one reason why he was able to lead England in a record 59 Tests was to avoid social media, thereby remaining ignorant of the more extreme criticism that came his way.
Root, however, has no intention of closing his Twitter account any time soon.
"It's something I've grown up with in international sport, so I'm used to it," explained Root. "With Cooky, it came along half-way through his career.”
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