It is commendable that England are considering their players’ wellbeing, both mental and physical during this arduous year of international cricket. Covid restrictions have been greatly difficult for all of us but particularly for those who are virtually confined to hotel rooms for months on end.
Allowing players to rotate home, almost like the military, is an excellent idea. However, as they tend to do, the England management have taken a good scheme and somehow turned it upside down.
Take the case of Jos Buttler for instance. Having played a full part in England’s tour of Sri Lanka, the Lancashire man has been sent home to rest after one Test Match in Chennai. This meant that Buttler had to endure 10 days of quarantine in India for the sake of 5 days of cricket. Assuming he has to quarantine again on his return to the UK, the wicketkeeper will have a brief rest at home before being asked to return to India for the one day leg of the tour that begins on 4th March, doubtless having to quarantine again before it starts.
Only Sir Humphrey Appleby, the infamous civil servant from Yes Minister, could have dreamt up such a convoluted and confusing schedule.
Far better to have allowed Buttler to simply rest at home for the entire Test series in India before returning refreshed to tackle the one dayers and the following English summer.
The clumsy handling of Moeen Ali also raises questions. Firstly, if he has chosen to go home because he does not want to stay in the England bio bubble then why has he just secured a £700,000 IPL contract that will require 8 more weeks of bubble life before the international summer even begins.
Secondly, if, as Chris Silverwood and Joe Root claim, it was always part of the plan that he would go home after the second Test, then why did captain and coach make a public show of dropping Dom Bess to bring Ali back for one match?
As a result of this, England are now faced with the prospect of playing one spinner in Indian conditions or recalling a young player whose confidence they may well have publicly destroyed. None of this is intended as a criticism of Moeen, who is the only member of England’s winter touring party to have actually suffered with Covid 19.
It is worth remembering as well, that those of us who have not experienced bubble life cannot possibly know the strain it can put on young men, especially those far from home. Anyone who is struggling should be treated with the utmost care and consideration.
It is more the manner in which the situation is being handled that raises more questions than answers, in particular who is making the calls? Chief selector Ed Smith has been a prominent figure on the tour of India, regularly being seen on TV sitting next to Silverwood in the England dressing room.
In previous eras it was uncommon for the Chairman of Selectors to travel with the winter touring party. Once the squad had been selected it was common practice to leave the day to day picking of the team to the captain and coach. With Smith seemingly keen to be seen as a visible part of the dressing room on this tour, one wonders how much influence he is having over selection.
It has also been frustrating to see players complaining about bubble life when they are playing for their country while at the same time being perfectly happy to put themselves forward for the glamour of lucrative IPL contracts, which require more time spent in the bio bubbles than many England tours.
In that context, it is so refreshing to see Mark Wood pull out of the IPL auction to spend more time with his family before the English season. One can only wish him a happy and successful summer. Hopefully by that time bio bubbles will no longer be necessary. Even if that is the case though, England cannot expect the same players to play every fixture that faces them in this, their busiest year.
Smith, Silverwood and Root will have to devise otherwise the wheels may well fall off the England merry go round.