Michael Atherton evaluates England’s rotation policy ahead of India series

England’s national selector Ed Smith has defended their ‘pragmatic’ rotation policy ahead of next month’s four-match series in India, and Michael Atherton believes flexibility will be crucial ahead of an intensive 2021 schedule.

Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer will return after being rested for the ongoing two-match series in Sri Lanka, while Rory Burns will also feature, following the birth of his first child.

The trio return to form part of England’s 16-man squad for the opening two Test matches in Chennai, although Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Mark Wood will sit out the first leg of the tour.

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“There a couple of issues for the selectors – one is just the workload; 17 Test matches, plus a world T20 and all England’s white-ball cricket,” Atherton told Sky Sports.

“Secondly we’re in Covid, players are in bio-secure bubbles, and then you’ve got to factor in things like the IPL as well.

“There’s a lot of cricket for England and they flagged it up before this Test match series in Sri Lanka, that the multi-format players – especially those who play red-ball and white-ball across formats – they’re going to be given blocks of rest, regardless of form.

“Jonny Bairstow might get 150 in this game, but he’s been told: ‘No, you’re going to be resting for the first two Tests in India.'”

England’s rotation policy has already been evidenced during the Sri Lanka series, with James Anderson replacing Stuart Broad for the second Test in Galle.

Given the demands of Test cricket in these unique circumstances, coupled with an Ashes series in Australia on the horizon, Atherton believes adaptability will be key to England’s fortunes.

“The other thing Ed [Smith] made the point of is that modern touring is very different. It is not like they’re travelling on the boat, it’s not like they are there for six months. They’re kind of nipping in and nipping out.

“The players are also under central contracts. They’re not like perhaps in our day where you were paid a tour fee, and it was a particular set of players.

“They are under contract all year round, so why not dip in and dip out according to the needs of the team and crucially, the needs of the players?”

Jos Buttler has been included for the first Test in Chennai on February 5, although he will be rested for the final three matches of the series, before returning for the white-ball series in March.

England squad for first two Tests vs India

Joe Root (captain), Jofra Archer, Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler*, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes

*Buttler to fly home after first Test

Despite not featuring in Sri Lanka having tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, Moeen Alli is expected to be rested at some stage over the coming months, alongside Joe Root and Chris Woakes – who are key members of England’s ODI set-up.

“We are being pragmatic,” England’s national selector Smith said on Thursday.

“If you keep people in a bubble unchanged for three months – January, February, March – and expect them to play every game in every format, they will not be able to perform at their best and England will be damaged as a result.

“So, it is absolutely a pragmatic point that we wish to give people breaks. We’ve discussed it with the players and we’ve had their understanding – they see that it’s for the players’ benefit as well as England’s benefit.

“We need to have the flexibility to do what’s best for them, and best for England, and that’s what we always do.

“Of course, if we believe we need to revisit a decision, we’ll revisit it absolutely, but the principle is anchored in flexibility and pragmatism. It’s about doing the right thing for the player and right thing for the team.”

The timing surrounding Bairstow’s rotation out of the squad has been questioned, particularly with Buttler set to return home following the first Test in Chennai.

Ben Foakes will take the gloves for the first time since February 2019 for the second Test, leaving the uncapped James Bracey and potentially Ollie Pope in reserve, although Atherton does not believe it’s a cause for undue concern.

England reserves for first two India Tests

James Bracey (Gloucestershire), Mason Crane (Hampshire), Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire), Matthew Parkinson (Lancashire), Ollie Robinson (Sussex), Amar Virdi (Surrey)

“You would imagine there is some in-built flexibility as well, though. If they get to India, Buttler comes home and then Foakes gets injured in good time, why wouldn’t you then bring Bairstow out?

“There has to be some in-built flexibility and a bit of nimbleness in there as well, but the selectors have flagged up in advance – we need to give these players a rest.

“You cannot expect the same XI to be playing every game that England play, regardless of form or conditions.”

Watch day two of the second Test between Sri Lanka and England live on Sky Sports Cricket from 4am on Friday, with over-by-over commentary and in-play video clips on Sky Sports’ digital platforms.

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