Ben Stokes will hand back the England captaincy with plenty of pride and no regrets despite coming up short against a defiant West Indies side in the first Test at the Ageas Bowl.
Stokes was leading his country for the first time, deputising for Joe Root who was absent due to the birth of his second child. The Yorkshireman will return to a 1-0 deficit in the #raisethebat Series when he joins up with the squad in Manchester this week.
Nearly everything Stokes touched in 2019 turned to gold but he presided over a four-wicket defeat after Jermaine Blackwood’s match-winning 95 did the heavy lifting in a fifth-day chase of 200.
Arguably his two biggest calls as skipper came before a ball had been bowled, omitting Stuart Broad in home conditions for the first time in eight years in a bid to harness the extra speed of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, and the subsequent call to bat first under heavy cloud cover.
Both continued to attract scrutiny after stumps were pulled on Sunday evening, but Stokes was resolute as he reflected on his time at the helm.
“I’ve really enjoyed the responsibility of leading the team and making decisions. We lost but I’m not going to look back with any regrets,” he said.
“It didn’t change me as player whatsoever with the bat in my hand or when I had the ball in my hand. I’ll be able to look back on this disappointed not to win but able to say that I’ve captained England.
“The message I delivered to everybody is that you leave everything out on that field, for the badge and
the number under your badge, and I’m proud of each and everyone one of the lads out there.
“I can see why Joe loses a lot of sleep because he’s got to do that every game. Obviously next week I don’t need to make any of the decisions, so good luck Joe.”
Broad gave a refreshingly honest assessment of his dropping in a Sky Sports appearance midway through the game, telling viewers he was “frustrated, gutted and angry”, but rather than bristling at the segment Stokes was impressed.
“Looking at the interview he gave I thought it was absolutely brilliant. To see the desire and passion that he showed and the answers that he gave, to still see that fire burning deep inside was fantastic.
“He is nowhere near done and if he plays in that second Test match I really hope he walks off that field with a bit of an ‘Up you’. But we made a decision based around thinking pace was going to stand us a better place in the long game. If I was to regret that, I don’t think that sends the right message to the other guys I picked.”
While Archer offered justification for his selection with a couple of brilliant spells and three wickets during the fourth innings, his partnership with Wood was not the decisive gambit England had hoped.
— Windies Cricket (@windiescricket) July 12, 2020
That does not mean that pace was the wrong option, though, with Windies’ quick Shannon Gabriel named man of the match for his nine-wicket haul.
“What Shannon has done in this game is nothing surprising. To see him back out there fit and well and bowling fast for the West Indies is always a pleasing sight,” captain Jason Holder said.
“Shannon is just one of those guys who keeps doing it. He has a massive, massive heart. He deserves every bit of success he’s had in this game.”