England's captain Eoin Morgan and other players attend a practice session ahead of their first Twenty20 International match against India.(REUTERS)
England's captain Eoin Morgan and other players attend a practice session ahead of their first Twenty20 International match against India.(REUTERS)

England focus on T20 as Test, IPL debate goes on

  • The ECB’s rotation policy during the Test series against India and Sri Lanka left many of their former players miffed.
By Abhishek Paul, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 11, 2021 10:58 AM IST

The term second string has a stop-gap ring to it. The Indian team though is lucky on that front as even their current back-up options showed they are capable of returning with a Test series win from one of the hardest places to tour in cricket – Australia.

Few other teams have such deep player resources to be able to field two XIs with almost equal firepower. In a World Cup year, it can prove tricky in allocating resources. That theme has been central to the raging debate in English cricket. Does it make sense to undercut other formats (mainly Test) to go full tilt preparing for the T20 World Cup, to be held later this year in India?

The ECB’s rotation policy during the Test series against India and Sri Lanka left many of their former players miffed. Their main accusation: why not go full strength in Tests against a team like India when itis done for T20s?

As things stand, the England XI that will take the field in the five-T20I series against India starting Friday will look distinctly different in character to the side that lost the Test series. It will be a mighty one too.

Since their loss to India in 2018, England have gone unbeaten in their last eight T20I series, with the latest win coming in South Africa last November. The No. 1 ranking in T20Is and ODIs substantiates that limited overs dominance. With Eoin Morgan, the ODI World Cup-winning captain, at the helm they will be expected to give a much better show against the hosts. Morgan has had his way in getting a strong squad to test the waters before the World Cup. Senior players like Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali who were rotated in the Test series, will be available for the entire T20I series.

T20 or Test?

It has left former England captains wondering where the power centre of English cricket lies--with Morgan or Joe Root, Test captain and acclaimed as one of the top four batsmen of the current generation. This also throws up a debate whether teams can be faulted for focusing on T20s in a World Cup year than going all out to get a good result in a bilateral Test series, however big it may be?

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is frustrated. “It is very clear where the leadership power lies in English cricket - it is with Eoin Morgan and not Joe Root. I am pretty sure that Morgan went to the selectors and Ashley Giles and said he wanted his best team at all times this year in Twenty20, so he could build for the World Cup in India in October. He has his wish,” the Ashes-winning skipper wrote in a column for The Telegraph.

“I understand rotation. Nobody argues against the fact players need breaks from Covid bubbles but the frustration for me as a lover of the game’s longest format is why has our Test team been weakened this winter, yet the Twenty20 side is at full strength? When you win a World Cup as captain you are bombproof.”

Vaughan’s opinion has merit as several England players and coach Chris Silverwood have admitted that they will be giving equal importance to the IPL and Test series against New Zealand. While IPL ends on May 30, the series against the Kiwis starts on June 2. Not all England players will be available then in the preparatory phase and the opening Test.

All-rounder Sam Curran, who plays for Chennai Super Kings, for example, is clear that playing in IPL will help his selection chances more for the October-November T20 World Cup.

“You have to see how the IPL tournament pans out, if you missed the qualifications I presume you’ll be most likely to be available for those Tests,” Curran said. “But if you are in the final, it might be a bit different. It’s great as a player to be playing in that tournament, especially with the T20 World Cup in India, it’s going to be great preparation.”

Explosive wicketkeeper-batsman Buttler added the monetary factor as well.

"I completely understand certain people will have an opinion one way and certain people another way," the England vice-captain said on Monday. "All I can say is the IPL has had an outstanding effect on English cricket so far and the individuals involved in it.

"The tournament is the biggest in the whole of cricket in terms of money. Careers can be short...It makes it a tough decision. Of course, the schedule at the moment is very tough and there is no perfect balance to it."

Even Silverwood has conceded that his players will be staying for the full length of the IPL.

“We haven’t looked at selection for the Test yet but, for me, playing for your country is a big thing. It’s difficult to change anything, so they’ll be staying for the whole IPL as it stands,” Silverwood said.

Though batting legend Geoffrey Boycott has said ECB “must stop treating players in a namby-pamby way”, T20Is now have grown into a far bigger entity than an extension of the cash rich T20 leagues. Only in February, South Africa Test captain Faf du Plessis retired from the format to concentrate on T20s. Even in the England squad, the 33-year-old leg-spinner Adil Rashid has made known his intention to concentrate mainly on limited overs.

It has long been accepted what Buttler said in an interview to this paper in 2018, “I don’t think we should have that snobbery that if you play cricket, you need to play all formats.”

As for objections by the purists, a second ICC title in two years can take care of that.

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