@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
With the latter stages of IPL 2021 originally scheduled to clash with the England-New Zealand Test series, there had been speculation that the hosts would be forced to field a weakened team.
However, the hopes of the likes of Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson and Ben Foakes were dealt a blow by the postponement of the IPL at the group stage’s halfway point, meaning those above them in a queue for a Test spot – Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran in particular – will be back in the country and theoretically available for selection. Aside from the injured Ben Stokes, all might well be in England’s best Test side for the New Zealand series. Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali are England’s other two recent Test cricketers now back from the IPL.
But the situation is not quite so simple. England’s Test squad is due to be named after the next round of County Championship games, in the week commencing May 17. Those returning from the IPL – except Eoin Morgan, Chris Jordan and Dawid Malan – arrived in the UK on May 5 and are currently in 10-day hotel quarantine, meaning they won’t be able to play any County Championship cricket before Chris Silverwood names his first squad as head coach-cum-selector.
There will be another round of the County Championship before England ‘bubble up’ ahead of the New Zealand Tests, in which the above quintet – excepting Bairstow, with Yorkshire not in action – will be able to get some red-ball game time. In any case, a lack of first-class match practice has rarely stood in England’s way in recent times when it comes to Test selection.
Still, there are a few coalescing factors that could see England carefully consider whether to pick all of Buttler, Woakes and Curran, let alone Moeen and Bairstow. Their returns from the IPL brings to an end a gruelling stretch since January, with multi-format stretches in Sri Lanka and India spent almost entirely cocooned in a series of hotels, though each received a break in England at some point. It’s unlikely to get much easier either, with bio-bubble protocols set to remain in place for the time being, and a bumper winter beginning with the T20 World Cup before heading to the Ashes. There is also the spectre of the potential rescheduling of the IPL, which might well be played after India’s Test series in England and before the global event.
England also have to juggle the dual aims of winning back the urn in Australia and becoming the first ever men’s side to hold both global world titles. Morgan had seemingly resigned himself to not having any of the multi-format players available for the visits of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“I would imagine all of the multi-format guys [will miss those series],” Morgan said back in March. “It’s just too much to ask, given the winter guys have had as well, around being in a bubble. A lot of it will be dependent on how flexible it is to come in and out of the biosecure environment that we’ll have during our summer, and whether they can see their families or not.”
But England now have the option to give the likes of Buttler, Curran and Moeen a proper rest while also allowing fielding a close to full-strength side against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, before adding them back to the squad for India’s visit. The same goes for Archer, who is gearing up to full fitness and might yet make his County Championship return in Sussex’s next game against Kent.
It had seemed as if England were viewing New Zealand’s visit – despite the Black Caps being one of the best Test sides in the world – as something of a free hit, and there is merit to continuing to do so. It is generally accepted that England will need to plumb the depths of their reserves against Australia, and the New Zealand series presents a low-key chance to get Test overs into Olly Stone’s legs, to see how much Craig Overton has improved, or to see whether Ollie Robinson can cut it at the highest level. Foakes is another who has started the season in good form and impressed in India, though with Stokes absent, England’s wicketkeeper will likely have to bat at No.6, meaning Buttler’s batting prowess becomes more of a factor.
England are trying to balance winning the games they have in front of them and preparing for two monumental challenges in India and Australia. There are no easy answers. Silverwood’s first selection meeting in charge might also be one of his toughest.