Joe Root admits he just wants his friend Ben Stokes 'to be okay'

‘I just want my friend to be OK’: Joe Root opens up on Ben Stokes’ decision to take an indefinite break from cricket as the England captain prepares for India Test series without all-rounder

  • Joe Root has said he just wants Ben Stokes to put himself first and be okay 
  • It was announced the England all-rounder will take indefinite break from cricket
  • Root admitted it was hard to see his friend struggling with his mental health
  • England face India in a five-match Test series starting at Trent Bridge this week 

Joe Root has a simple wish as he approaches the first of 10 Tests against India and Australia that will largely decide if he is remembered as a success or failure as England captain.

‘I just want my friend to be okay,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to see him like this.’

The friend, of course, is Ben Stokes, now taking an indefinite break from cricket, and Root’s thoughts were with him even though his task, starting at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, will be considerably tougher for the absence of the ‘irreplaceable’ all-rounder.

Joe Root admitted it was hard to see his friend Ben Stokes (R) suffering with his mental health

It was announced the England all-rounder will be taking an indefinite break away from cricket

‘Ben always puts other people in front of himself but now is the time to put himself first, to take time to look after himself and get back to a good place again,’ said Root.

‘Cricket has to be secondary, a long way down the line, and he should take as long as he needs. He has been assured he’s got the full support of the ECB and the whole team. I’ve talked to him and what was said will remain between us but we are all behind him.’

It remains a huge shock that the seemingly indestructible Stokes had to withdraw from this marquee five-Test series against India to protect his mental well-being and a salutary warning to the game that something will have to give if more players are not to follow suit.

‘That’s why it’s important we keep on talking,’ said Root. ‘Especially while we are in these safe living, bubble environments.

Root now goes into the five-match India series without ‘the heartbeat’ of the England side

‘We have tried to look after the players with rest and rotation and while that has produced challenges it has given them the opportunity to try to stay in a good head space.’

The controversial rest and rotation policy that has forced Root to field weakened Test sides over the last year and added to the pressure to beat India was meant to have led to a full-strength side now.

Yet it is not only Stokes missing this week but also two injured key bowlers in Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes and Root has much to ponder as he seeks a combination to defeat an India side acclimatising here ever since their World Test Championship final defeat by New Zealand.

‘There’s no-one compares to Ben Stokes in world cricket,’ said Root. ‘He’s been incredible for a long time now, the heartbeat of this side, but we have found ways to win without him in the past and this is another opportunity to try and do that.’

Jofra Archer will also be missing as he continues his recovery from having elbow surgery

How Root could do with a win at Trent Bridge after defeat in India last winter was followed by a rare home reverse against New Zealand. If England go behind now we could be in for a long six months with this series and, if it takes place, the Ashes.

It was that miserable defeat at Edgbaston against the Kiwis earlier this summer that led to Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain taking England’s batsmen to task over their modern, misfiring techniques.

‘It was actually nice to see someone so passionate about English cricket,’ said Root. ‘I didn’t agree with everything Nasser said, and that’s fine, but you could tell how much he wanted England to be successful. Our guys are desperate to go out there now and put big runs on the board. We need to implement our game-plan better than the opposition.’

Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain was critical of England’s batsmen’s techniques this summer

Not least the captain who took the unusual decision of undertaking all his media duties two days out from the game so he can put all his focus today on getting ready for one of the most important games of his leadership.

Root knows the next six months will probably define him as a captain. ‘It could do,’ he said. ‘But I can’t think about that because I need to concentrate on the here and now. We need to make a good start to this series and that’s all I can concentrate on right now.’

That and his absent and much missed friend Stokes.

India opener Mayank Agarwal has been ruled out of the first Test with concussion after being struck on the helmet during nets at Trent Bridge. He is in a stable condition.

Mayank Agarwal will not feature in the first Test after being struck on the helmet in the nets

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