Streamlined Ben Stokes will be the most reassuring figure of all for Joe Root when he arrives for his first day of Test cricket as England’s new captain this summer.
Root prizes his deputy’s presence not just for his born match-winning ability with bat, ball and in the field – but because they have spent much of the past 15 years sharing a cricket field with one another, initially in opposition and increasingly as hugely familiar and trusted team-mates.
For those reasons, Root had no hesitation nominating the mercurial all-rounder as his preferred vice-captain after he himself was offered the top job last weekend to succeed Alastair Cook – and happily, England and Wales Cricket Board director Andrew Strauss was of like mind too.
When Root and Stokes join forces again as main and right-hand man at Lord’s against South Africa in July, the occasion will be those 15 years and around 260 miles away from their first meeting.
Both have grown in stature, of course, since Root travelled north with Yorkshire Under-12s to take on Stokes and 10 other young Cumbrian braves at Sedbergh School.
“He was a little podgy medium-pacer back then,” said Root, his trademark grin betraying a touch of mild, long-distance sledging.
In case his old mate is paying attention, though, the new England captain is quick to update his assessment of Stokes.
“He’s obviously a slightly different player right now,” said Root.
“But he was always in your face, letting you know he was there – and that was great to play against.”
Root and Stokes duly progressed from under-12s to under-15s, where they encountered fellow future England players Sam Billings, Jos Buttler and James Vince.
“We all ended up at the Bunbury festival at the same age group, and we all seemed to get on pretty well,” added Root, recalling an old yarn given a page or two in both his and Stokes’s recent autobiographies.
The joke was initially on Billings when peri-peri sauce was dropped into a glass of coke while eyes were turned. Subsequent victims were varied – and Root, known to like a laugh, has since made sure Stokes has had the occasional comeuppance.
“It has been nice over the last few years to get him back a few times,” said Root.
“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.
“Naturally we will think of different things and we will complement each other pretty well.”
Root remains an admirer of Stokes’s skill – citing his double-century in Cape Town last year and also the part he played in the famous 2015 Trent Bridge Ashes victory, which will always be remembered most for Stuart Broad’s brilliant bowling.
Root said: “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.
“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.”
Others, of course, will be on hand to help Root establish his new era – including his predecessor Cook.
England’s record runscorer has put his longevity as captain, for an unprecedented 59 Tests, down in part to his abstention from social media.
In particular, Cook was able to avoid the excessively vitriolic criticism occasionally voiced by some on Twitter.
Root, however, will not be ditching his hashtag just yet.
“It’s something I’ve grown up with in international sport, so I’m used to it,” said the 26-year-old.
“With Cooky, it came along halfway through his career.”
For Root, at present at least, the advantages outweigh the negatives.
“People will have their say anyway ... it’s just part of the sport, and you take that for what it is,” he said.
“With the new age we’re in now, where social media is a big part of communicating and getting things out there, it’s something you’ve just got to adapt to and accept ... it’s always going to be there.
“It’s a great opportunity to get your messages across as well.”
He does reserve the right to revise his opinion if necessary, though.
He added: “We should embrace it and use it to our advantage.
“I’d like to think you learn to manage it over time and you get used to it. (But) we’ll see ... it can always disappear if it needs to.”