England's rest and rotation policy must be overhauled after blunders

England’s Test series loss to India wasn’t a disaster… but the ECB’s rest and rotation policy is not fit for purpose as the oldest form of the game has been undermined as stars like Ben Stokes are rested for the country rather than the IPL

  • England could not have been expected to win more than one Test in India 
  • However, the mismanaged rest and rotation policy has left a bitter taste 
  • The ECB should have told some of their stars to forgo time playing in the IPL
  • The governing body must show more backbone to preserve the integrity of Tests
  • Jofra Archer’s ongoing elbow niggle could see him miss several Tests in 2021

How things have changed since those heady days when England won three successive Tests in subcontinental conditions that have all too often proved their downfall.

Back then, and it was only last month, their stated aims of peaking for the Ashes later this year and returning to the top of the world Test rankings were alive and kicking and Joe Root was once again proving himself among the world’s truly great batsmen.

The three defeats against India that have swiftly followed those twin successes in Sri Lanka and one of their greatest away wins in Chennai does not mean all of England’s good work under Root and Chris Silverwood has suddenly gone up in smoke.

The poor Test series against India has not undone Joe Root and Chris Silverwood’s good work

Virat Kohli’s irrepressible side could well beat England in this summer’s five-Test series

After all, India have an extraordinary home record and no one expected England to win there — I tipped India to win 3-1 ahead of the series and felt I was being optimistic in expecting England to win one.

And such is the strength in all conditions of India now under Virat Kohli that they have a very real chance of beating England in this summer’s mouthwatering five-Test series.

But the scale of those reverses, with England looking totally shot and beaten into the ground by the end of Saturday’s final thrashing, leaves them with big questions to answer before they can return to the right Test path.

Not least the future of a questionable rest and rotation policy that was introduced with the best of intentions in an over-crowded and uniquely demanding year, but has been exposed as unfit for purpose.

It is the examples of two players who, for whatever reason, have never seemed to be treated as consistently as the bulk of what remains an emerging Test team that best sums up the self-inflicted nature of many of England’s problems in India.

Jonny Bairstow has been mucked around more than most since the time three years ago when he was doing a perfectly good job as England’s keeper-batsman. 

But expecting him to step straight back into the key No 3 position for the third Test after sending him home from Sri Lanka for 10 days and then telling him to undertake a tortuous return journey and spend six days in quarantine was a new low.

It is little wonder he looked painfully out of his depth in making three ducks in four innings on his return to the side and he must switch back into white-ball mode ahead of Friday’s first Twenty20 international knowing his Test career might well be over.

So, too, could that of Moeen Ali, another player who has been the victim of selectorial whim all too often and who was right to stick to the original plan when asked at the last moment to stay on for the last two Tests.

Jonny Bairstow was treated shamefully by the ECB as he struggled on his return to the side

Root’s clumsy declaration that Moeen had ‘chosen’ to go home, admittedly made in the immediate aftermath of the first of those big defeats, was totally unfair on an important and popular cricketer who, like Bairstow, lost his full central contract last year.

Silverwood said yesterday that the policy must continue while Covid remains and could even be extended to the Ashes in November. 

But he must know deep down that England and their players have missed the chance to avoid undermining Test cricket.

Perhaps Moeen and Bairstow, with only white-ball contracts, are justified in spending two more months back in a bio-secure bubble in the Indian Premier League in April and May, particularly after the way England have treated them this winter.

But England should have told vice-captain Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran that they had to miss part of this year’s competition rather than ever be unavailable for what remains the ultimate form of the game in Test cricket.

Or the players should have seen the bigger picture and been big enough to give up a part of their lucrative IPL deals in this of all years without being asked by their employer.

England should been firmer and asked the likes of Ben Stokes to miss part of the IPL campaign

And it does not matter that England’s players had to forgo 15 per cent of their salaries last year because of Covid-related losses. They are still extremely well rewarded by the ECB, especially those on full multi-format contracts who earn close to seven figures a year.

As it is, Stokes and Archer were not in Sri Lanka and Buttler missed the three losses against India, with the ultimate irony of him sitting in an Ahmedabad hotel room in quarantine while India won the last Test by an innings and 25 runs.

Now all of them could miss the opening summer two-Test series in June which, along with the probability of New Zealand also being severely under-strength because of the IPL, would make a mockery of the grand old game.

There are concerns one of those IPL men in Archer might miss Tests for another reason too because Silverwood admitted yesterday England’s medical staff are ‘talking about’ how they can manage the elbow problem that again ruled him out of the final Test.

Archer has now missed three Tests in the last year or so because of his elbow, one in South Africa and two in India, and there have to be question marks over his robustness for an extended Test future. 

‘The important thing for me at the moment is that Jofra gets every resource we can provide to make sure he does have a long and successful Test career,’ said Silverwood.

Jofra Archer is struggling to shake off an elbow injury and could miss several Tests this year

For now Archer is back in the frame for what will be a full strength England Twenty20 side to take on India in five matches.

And England will have to think again about their supposed prioritisation of Test cricket after the most humbling of defeats. 

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