‘Great courage and leadership’ for Ben Stokes to open up on his mental health battle, says Joe Root

Joe Root has praised England captain Ben Stokes for addressing his mental health struggles in a new documentary, saluting his “great courage and great leadership”.

Root joined the rest of the Test squad at a London screening of Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes, a film that sees their skipper tackle the toughest moments of his career, before travelling north for Thursday’s second Test against South Africa.

As well as confronting his 2017 arrest and eventual acquittal on charges of affray and the loss of his father to brain cancer, Stokes is strikingly open about the crushing anxiety and panic attacks which forced him to take a break from the game last summer.

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During his own time as skipper, Root took to referring to Stokes as a ‘superhero’ for his outstanding match-winning abilities, but believes his decision to open himself up at his lowest ebbs only serves to underline his strength.

England's Ben Stokes during a nets session at Emirates Old Trafford. Picture: PA.England's Ben Stokes during a nets session at Emirates Old Trafford. Picture: PA.
England's Ben Stokes during a nets session at Emirates Old Trafford. Picture: PA.

“I think it’s very powerful what he’s done, to be honest. To share his journey, his story and everything that he’s had to go through,” he said.

“Not just with us as team but the rest of the world. I think it’s quite a powerful thing and I can’t see how it won’t better the environment that we’re playing in. It takes great courage and shows great leadership actually, saying that ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ sometimes.

“To ask for help and go and do what he’s done, it can only be a good thing. Ben has not always found it easy to tell everyone where he’s at. It’s just a great wake-up call that you’ve got to do what you can to reach out when the time’s right or if you see something.”

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That Stokes can use his platform as England Test captain to openly discuss the professional and medical help he has sought to bring him back from the brink of quitting, represents a shift in the way such matters are treated in elite sport.

Root was a relative rookie in the 2013/14 Ashes, when Jonathan Trott first revealed the mental health problems that would bring his international career to a premature close, and feels there is greater understanding now.

“I think we’ve come a long way. I was a very young and naive lad in that team and wasn’t really aware of what Trotty was going through,” he admitted.

“But guys like him, Marcus Trescothick and others, speaking up and sharing what they’ve had to go through, has made it made it easier and better for other players to sort of deal with some hardships of their own.”

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Root laughed off the idea that he could ever produce a documentary of his own, suggesting it would be “pretty boring” and “about 10 minutes long”. He is content to provide his own brand of entertainment in the middle and, after a rare double failure in the three-day loss at Lord’s, is keen to get back on track.

Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum both made it clear they expected England to respond to their innings defeat by doubling down on their new aggressive style and Root is happy to oblige.

“From a personal point of view I’ve probably played some of my best innings this year, with that mindset,” he said.

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