Ben Stokes has always put the team first and it is time he put himself first, said England skipper Joe Root about his friend and a star all-rounder who has taken an indefinite break from the game to address his mental wellbeing. (More Cricket News)
Calling Stokes the heartbeat of the team, Root said he will be badly missed in the India series beginning Wednesday but considering the phase that he is in, cricket is secondary.
"Yeah, from my point of view, I just want my friend to be okay. I think anyone that knows Ben he always puts other people in front of himself and I think now is an opportunity for him to put himself first...
"...to take time to look after himself and get himself into a good place again and hopefully that can be sooner rather than later. I think cricket has to be a secondary thought.
"And he should take as much time as he needs and he has got full support of the ECB and certainly the whole team is supporting him so more than anything, we just want Ben to be okay," said Root, adding that it was hard for him to see his friend in this state of mind.
While no one can replace a player of Stokes' calibre, Root is confident that youngsters like Sam Curran will rise to the occasion, like he did in the 2018 home series against India.
"In my opinion, there's no one that compares Ben Stokes and so obviously for a long time now he has very much been the heartbeat of this team.
"But with (Ben out), present opportunities for the guys to step up to the plate and we've seen in the past guys been able to do that without Ben. The likes of Sam Curran including the last series against India and more recently against Pakistan at Old Trafford, that partnership between Jos and Woakes.
"So we have found ways to win without Ben (his contribution), and this is another opportunity to do that," said Root ahead of the five-match series, marking the beginning of the second World Test Championship cycle.
England have a busy Test schedule lined up over the next six months with five games against India and as many against Australia in an away Ashes series.
With cricket continuing to be played in bio-bubbles, there is a possibility that more players like Stokes will be forced to take time off the game to live a "normal" life.
Root is also not ruling that out.
"I think that's why it's important that we continue to keep talking especially whilst we're in safe living environments. There's good honest conversations between the players and ECB so that players can be looked after as best as possible.
"On the scheduling, and that's way off my roof. We've tried as best as we can over the last year to look after the players in terms of resting, rotating, giving guys the opportunity to get out of very difficult environments, so that they can be as fresh for as long as possible.
"And that does produce different challenges as well within the cricket side of things, but ultimately it's meant that the players have been given the opportunity to try and stay in a good headspace to stay mentally fresh and not have to continually keep living in a global environment so it's going to be important that we manage that well."
Echoing India skipper Virat Kohli's views, Root said that cricket in protected environment is not sustainable.
"It's just important that we keep talking about that and that we said from the outset that we don't see this as a sustainable way of living, a sustainable way of playing and try to manage it as well as we can.
"So, I can see that being a continued thing that we just need to keep managing it as best as we can. As players be honest as well and when it's hard and it's becoming too much so you talk to people, and you do make sure and give yourself the best chance of staying in a good place."
It is not yet known if the England players will be allowed to take families to Australia for the Ashes. Root remains confident that ECB and Cricket Australia will do the needful when the time comes.
England will be under pressure having lost the home series to New Zealand in June. They will also be eyeing revenge following a 1-3 loss in India in February-March.
The hosts' batting line-up has been under fire and the upcoming series could make or break careers of the batsmen who are feeling the heat.
"We've got a lot of things to consider as far the balance of the side is concerned. With Ben not being there is something that will probably take a lot of the thinking and and be one of the challenges we want to try and get right on this ground in these conditions.
"Well I know that the guys are desperate to go out there and put some big scores. Certainly that has not changed."
Root is also 22 runs away from becoming England's leading run scorer across formats. Reminded about that milestone, Root added: "I'd be more excited about winning (the first Test). It's a huge series for us.
"And it's a great opportunity for us to play India, one of the best sides of the world in our own conditions."