Chris Silverwood has insisted Test cricket remains a priority for England, and that their ongoing rotation policy is more a reflection of the length of Test tours than a desire to maximise the players’ white-ball opportunities.
While England are unlikely to field a first-choice XI in any of the six Tests they play this winter, they have named a full-strength side for the T20I series that starts in India in March. And while all of England’s all-format players will have missed some international cricket over the English winter, it seems none of them will be required to miss any cricket in the IPL.
It has also now emerged that England’s Test team for the first Test against New Zealand – scheduled for the start of June – will not contain players involved in the play-off stages of the IPL.
Although the T20 World Cup – scheduled to be played in India towards the end of the year – provides one explanation for the policy, England’s on-going interest in the World Test Championship (they could still qualify for the final if they win the final two Tests of the series against India) would appear to contradict that justification.
Nevertheless, England’s recent Test record – notwithstanding their heavy defeat in last week’s second Test in Chennai – remains impressive, with four series wins in a row dating back to last winter’s tour of South Africa.
Silverwood, the England head coach, insists “Test cricket is the priority to us most definitely” and feels absences incurred during Test series are more a reflection of the length of time required for such campaigns than any reflection of their diminishing importance.
“Test cricket is really important to me,” Silverwood said. “I’ve always said that. It’s something Joe Root and I are very passionate about. We prioritise Tests and T20 equally, to be honest.
“We know we have a great opportunity to have a bit of a dry run with the T20 World Cup being in India but equally we have to respect that to get people to the T20 World Cup and the Ashes fresh and on top form, we have to look after them. It is the world we are living in. But I can guarantee that we are not prioritising anything above Test cricket
“The length of time we are here for the Test series compared say to the length of the T20 series is chalk and cheese. To play four Tests over here in this bubble, we have to rotate people. Obviously, families can’t come to us, so we have to do our best to get people to their families.
“Equally, from a World Cup point of view, this series is a fantastic opportunity for us to learn as a group, for players to experience those conditions and take a lot away from that.
“All I can do though is reiterate that Test cricket is very, very important to us.”
Silverwood also expressed a relaxed attitude towards the IPL. While he accepts there will be times he loses players because of it, he also believes the experience of playing in it will improve those players when they return. Most of all, he seems to understand the financial benefits it provides render it a non-negotiable part of the calendar.
“I understand that that is how the world works,” he said. “I understand it, I embrace it and I’ll do the best to make it work.
“I think it is very difficult to say ‘no, you can’t play in the IPL’. You certainly can’t say no to one and yes to another. We will reap the rewards they come back and play T20 for us, having improved their skills and with knowledge of other players.
“These guys are playing a high-level of T20 cricket which can only benefit us. We reap the benefits when they play T20 for England. Players make their own minds up with the competitions they go in, but we reap the benefits.
“I can understand [the frustration of supporters] but I’m at peace with where we are, to be honest.”
One player who will not now be involved in this year’s IPL is Mark Wood, who has decided to withdraw from Thursday’s auction in order to spend more time with his family.
Silverwood also provided an encouraging update on the fitness of Jofra Archer and Zak Crawley. Both have been back in the nets in recent days boosting hopes they will be available for the third Test. He also expressed some excitement about the prospect of using a pink SG ball in that game – a day-night encounter – suggesting it appeared to swing more and for longer than the red version. If so, it might benefit an England attack expected to contain Archer and James Anderson.
“Jofra bowled today,” Silverwood said. “And Zak has been hitting balls throughout the last Test. So we are hoping that the two of them will be able to throw their hat in the ring.
“I am excited by the pink ball. During practice it has swung more and scuffed up less. It seems a little bit more durable than the red version. I’m looking forward to seeing one or two more people with it in their hands in Ahmedabad.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.