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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How the English cookie crumbled in Test series

Former cricketers lambast England's rotation policy, saying players should be docked money if they put IPL above national duty.

Written by Vishal Menon |
Updated: March 10, 2021 7:52:14 am
Geoffrey Boycott, Geoffrey Boycott England, England, Yorkshire, Geoffrey Boycott updates, Geoffrey Boycott news, sports news, sports, cricket news, CricketGeoffrey Boycott, arguably the best defensive batsman of his generation, played for Yorkshire from 1962-1986 and had a stint as county captain. (Source: Express File)

England’s rotation policy has copped severe criticism after their 1-3 Test series loss in India, with players being accused of giving priority to the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) over the traditional five-day format. One of the ways mooted to ensure that cricketers always put country first is to hit them where it hurts the most – their pockets.

Legendary opener Geoffrey Boycott has asked the ECB to stop treating its players in a “namby-pamby way” and ensure money is docked if they put IPL above national duty. “England messed up with a rotation policy in India and must stop treating players in a namby-pamby way,” Boycott wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

Chief selector Ed Smith has advocated a rotation policy for multi-format players, to keep them fresh considering the challenges of life in a bio-bubble and a 2021 schedule which has England featuring in 17 Tests, including a part of the Ashes late in the year, apart from a raft of white-ball tournaments. The T20 World Cup and the IPL will make life only more hectic.

Boycott, though, didn’t have much sympathy for cricketers who find the amount of international cricket on their plate too much.

“If players want to go home for a break from England duty, dock their money. Better still, don’t select them unless they can agree to be available for a whole series,” he wrote.

Boycott pointed out that hardly any player chooses to skip the IPL complaining of too much cricket. “Players seem to forget the IPL would not come calling for them if they had not performed for England first. So, they owe a debt of gratitude and loyalty to put their country first. I would never stop them from earning that but not by missing games for England to do it,” he wrote in his column, before adding: “Players leave England’s bio-secure bubble over mental health issues. But I bet you will not see any of our players leaving the IPL because they miss their wife, girlfriend or kids.”

Faulty selection

A fallout of the rotation policy was that England were without some of their key players for the better part of the four-Test series against India. Jos Buttler, arguably England’s finest counter-attacking batsman, left the team after the first Test in Chennai to be with his family, but has returned for the white-ball leg of the tour. In fact, Buttler was in quarantine and watched the final Test in Ahmedabad from the confines of his hotel room in the same city, even as his team capitulated inside three days.

“I agree with and understand the ECB looking after their players. In golfing terms, a Test series in India is one of your Majors. England did not give themselves the best chance to compete by rotating their key players. Rishabh Pant smashing it all around Ahmedabad while Jos Buttler — an England player capable of doing the same thing — is sitting in a hotel room in the same city, being rested ahead of the white-ball matches, just doesn’t look right,” former England captain Nasser Hussain wrote in The Daily Mail.

Best of both worlds

There are others like Sam Curran, the 22-year-old all-rounder, who is paid close to 6,50,000 pounds a year to play Test cricket, but was rested for the India tour as part of the rotation policy. Curran, after his exploits in the IPL, is now a much-sought after white-ball cricketer, integral to England’s T20 World Cup plans. He will be part of the white-ball leg of the India series before turning into one of MS Dhoni’s trusted lieutenants for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, for which he pockets a cool 5,90,000 pounds.

Onus on players

Despite the bio-bubble and Covid-19 restrictions in place, Hussain said the onus should be on players to prioritise Test cricket and take responsibility for their own schedule. The cricketer-turned-commentator cited Jonny Bairstow’s example, who was in fine form in Sri Lanka before being rotated out of the side, and turning up underprepared and looking out of depth against Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel at Motera. “Jonny Bairstow went home after doing well in Sri Lanka and struggled after returning to India for the last two Tests. Bairstow would have had the chance to say: ‘Hold on, I’m playing well, I don’t want to be rotated. I want to make a success of Test cricket,” Hussain wrote in his column.

White-ball cricket gets precedence

It’s no secret that white-ball cricket has been vital to the ECB’s plans since the team’s dismal show in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The 50-over format became the priority thereafter — culminating in the 2019 World Cup triumph under the leadership of Eoin Morgan. In a similar vein, T20 cricket has now assumed priority over ODIs and Test cricket, given that the next two ICC events — in India and Australia — are both in the 20-over format.

Not surprisingly, Morgan has also grown in stature. When he demanded a full-strength team for the white-ball leg of the India tour, the selectors decided to make an exception in the rotation policy — their argument being that the games in India would provide the ideal preparation for the T20 World Cup later in the year.

Smith and his team of selectors have gone a step further and allowed the England players in this year’s IPL to miss the summer’s Test series against New Zealand if the franchises they represent qualify for the playoffs.

“It is very difficult to say to the players that ‘no, you can’t play IPL’. You can’t say no if you just see the numbers. IPL is a marquee cricket event in the T20 world and so it’s difficult,” England head coach Chris Silverwood said during a media conference when he was probed on the issue of IPL gaining precedence over Test matches. The first Test against New Zealand is scheduled from June 2 at Lord’s, three days after the IPL final.

Ashes: the final frontier

Even though India-England Tests have gained prestige over the last few decades, to most English cricketers nothing compares with the storied rivalry of the Ashes. For most, a memorable performance against Australia would go a long way in quelling some of the debacles in India. Former England cricketers are not particularly thrilled at the prospect of ECB prioritising the Ashes over other bilateral series.

“We have an unhealthy obsession with the Ashes. If we do well there, all is forgotten,” chimed Michael Vaughan, captain in England’s epic Ashes win in 2005. Hussain agreed. “It does seem to be the be-all and end-all for English cricketers. Ashes, Ashes. Ashes,” he said in a Sky Sports podcast.

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