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Explained: Why are Bairstow, Buttler being rested for a part of the Test series against India?

Even though the players are very well taken care of, life in a “luxury prison” – in the words of Kagiso Rabada – can get to the most mentally-strong individuals.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 30, 2021 10:41:38 am
England batsman Jos Buttler during a Test match in Mumbai. File/PTI Photo

For a series accorded marquee status, England’s four-Test rubber in India has generated more noise than usual about the players likely to miss at least some part of the contest. And not due to injury or illness either.

Due to these pandemic-affected times and the hectic schedule, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has decided on a policy to rotate its multi-format players to keep them fresh and ensure their physical and mental well-being. While this has been hailed as a right move in several quarters, many others – including former England captains – have opined that the strongest possible squad should be employed for such a high-profile series.

Who are the players being rotated by the England selectors?

Jonny Bairstow, acknowledged as one of the best contemporary England players of spin, has been rested for the first two Tests of the series after playing the recent series in Sri Lanka while dynamic wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler will go home after the first Test against India. Speedster Mark Wood and left-handed all-rounder Sam Curran will miss at least the first two Tests.

Earlier, star all-rounder Ben Stokes and pace bowler Jofra Archer were rested for the Sri Lanka tour and they return for the India series. Veteran new-ball bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad were alternated during the two Tests in Galle, and there is a chance that England’s two highest-wicket-takers in Test cricket may not play every game in tandem in India either.

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What is the reasoning behind the policy?

Starting with the series in Sri Lanka, England play 17 Tests in 2021, in addition to the Twenty20 World Cup in India. Some of their best players will also be featuring in the lucrative Indian Premier League in the summer. And with all these matches being held inside bio-bubbles, ECB thinks it’s not mentally and physically feasible for any player to be in such a situation for an extended length of time.

“We’re resting in the best interests of the players and to get the best out of them long-term,” said England head coach Chris Silverwood. “We’ve decided to rest and rotate; we’ve decided we need to look after the players. I do believe we have to be proactive in looking after them, rather than wait until there’s a problem.”
Playing inside bio-bubbles adds another dimension to this debate.

Even though the players are very well taken care of, life in a “luxury prison” – in the words of Kagiso Rabada – can get to the most mentally-strong individuals.

What are the opposing views on this issue?

Former England captains Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen have slammed ECB’s rotation policy.

Pietersen, one of the heroes of England’s 2-1 series win in India in 2012, ECB needed to pick its strongest squad.

“Winning IN India is as good a feeling as winning in Aus. It’s disrespectful to ENG fans & also @BCCI to NOT play your best team,” Pietersen wrote in a tweet. “Bairstow has to play! Broad/Anderson have to play!”

Where does the IPL figure in this debate?

The IPL is a permanent feature of the cricket calendar, and one cricket boards around the world need to work around. The 2020 IPL was held in September-November in a bio-bubble in the UAE. The next edition will be in the Indian summer, most probably in a similarly cocooned environment.

Players like Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Curran and Archer are key men for their respective franchises and would be keen to feature. That the IPL summer clashes with the early-season Tests in England queers the pitch. They may have to be excused for the two Tests against New Zealand during that time.

With the T20 World Cup in India later in the year, England’s key players getting a taste of conditions in the IPL may not be such a bad idea for them.

Why is Buttler being preferred for T20Is over Tests?

Buttler is one of the best short-format players in the world and in a year with the T20 World Cup in India, he and England could gain by featuring in the T20 series after the Tests. With 50-over World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan now an immensely influential figure in English cricket, he may have been keen on a full-strength T20 squad in India before the big event.

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