Rob Key has refused to put a shelf life on the Test captaincy of Ben Stokes.
Recent predecessors Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss held the post for between four and five years but new ECB director of men’s cricket Key does not want to place any expectation on England’s 81st permanent captain.
‘It does not have to be a four-year job. He is the England captain. He might turn around in a year’s time and say he has had enough,’ Key said.
‘We just don’t have to overthink all of this stuff. He can have a look at us as much as we have a look at him. What I want to make clear though is this is not a trial period. Life is for living. Don’t do something if you hate it.’
Ben Stokes was recently appointed as the new captain of the England men’s Test team
Stokes succeeded Joe Root, who had held the role for five years before resigning this month
ECB managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key refused to put a time on Stokes’ captaincy
Stokes, who suffered defeat in his only Test as stand-in captain against West Indies in Southampton two years ago, starts his reign at Lord’s against New Zealand, the country of his birth, on June 2.
Test cricket will be prioritised during the honeymoon period of Stokes’ captaincy, to the extent that multi-format stars could be conspicuous by their absence from England’s limited-overs teams this summer.
In revealing a framework to support Stokes and improve an horrific run of just one win in 17 Tests, Key said the incoming white-ball coach must accept the A-listers resting during July, when Eoin Morgan’s teams face India and South Africa in six one-day and six Twenty20 internationals.
England began 2022 by dispatching a shadow squad to the Caribbean for a five-match T20 series and a similar-strength 50-over group will be sent to Holland in June for three matches shoehorned between the third and fourth of seven Tests this summer.
It is a bold strategy given that the T20 World Cup is just six months away and the defence of the 50-over title follows next year but Key said: ‘What we have to concern ourselves with is the plan at the moment which is Test cricket.
Stokes suffered defeat in his only Test as stand-in captain against West Indies two years ago
England are the defending 50-over champions but the format could take a back seat under Key
‘We all know the World Cup is there on the schedule, but at the moment focus is solely on getting this Test team up and running. That can go all the way through to the end of the South African series.’
Key will now push on with naming two new specialist head coaches in a return to a model last seen in 2014 when Andy Flower and Ashley Giles fought over players.
This time, Key will decide who plays when and where. ‘I will make it very clear to them and it will be constantly communicated,’ Key said. ‘You might be the white-ball coach but that does not mean you will have the luxury of having the multi-format cricketers every single game.
‘There is a chance we could actually sustain that white-ball set up for longer by younger players coming in. There is enough investment in the team and it’s in a good enough place to go all guns blazing for the Twenty20 World Cup.’
England will be targeting glory at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year
Time is short to appoint a Test coach, the interviews for which begin a week tomorrow, but Key — whose determination to split the roles will only be reconsidered should the outstanding candidate insist on overall control — is optimistic someone will be in place before the first New Zealand Test.
The process began when Strauss sounded out the likes of Gary Kirsten, Justin Langer, Ottis Gibson and Jason Gillespie during his spell as acting managing director. ‘The red-ball job is really attractive because there is such scope,’ said Key, who concedes an overseas appointment is inevitable.
‘It’s easier now they know Ben Stokes is doing it because they can start planning how they would work with him. That is clearly going to be one of the first questions you ask in an interview.’ It is expected that Strauss and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison will be on the panel alongside Key, whose bulging to-do list includes identifying a new national selector after the position became obsolete in the final months of Chris Silverwood’s tenure as head coach.
One policy Key has ditched is pre-planned rotations, insisting the best XI is picked game-by-game. That means veterans Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad could be back in tandem following the controversial decision to omit them from a tour of the Caribbean.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad are set to return to the Test setup after missing the West Indies tour
Gary Kirsten is tipped to become England’s new red-ball coach in their bid for Test success
Key said: ‘We’ve just got to get the most of them while we can. They can’t just keep going on forever and ever but they certainly deserve to decide at the moment.’
It is yet to be established whether Stokes will be handed selection rights and depending on how long the new process takes to set up, the summer’s international programme could open with Key retaining the power of veto. ‘I could be the one you all point the gun at,’ he said. ‘We’ll all sit round and if I’m the one who has to tell you the team or squad, I’ll do it. It’s for me to know who’s to blame for a bad decision, if the process is not working and making sure it does.’
Key said there was a ‘whole plan in place’ to manage star fast bowler Jofra Archer
One name that will not enter the equation is Jofra Archer, for whom Test cricket this summer is ‘touch and go’ following elbow surgery.
‘I spoke to Jofra, there’s a whole plan in place for him. It’s not stupid to say he is massively important to English cricket,’ Key said. ‘Listening to the medical team it looks like white-ball cricket, I don’t think he’ll be fit for the rigours of Tests.
‘We don’t have to be too rigid. We’ll have those debates throughout the summer, like we will over Mark Wood and Olly Stone. They’re a real commodity the fast bowlers, we have to get the best out of them.’
For now, the immediate aim is to get the best out of a faltering Test team.