Chris Silverwood has said England’s rotation policy will pay dividends come next winter’s Ashes campaign, even if the head coach concedes that mid-tour rest breaks may still be a feature of that “priority” series.
A heavy 3-1 Test series defeat in India has put the decision to release multi-format players for breaks at various junctures under scrutiny but, with dual goals of lifting the Twenty20 World Cup and winning in Australia later this year, England remain unrepentant.
Silverwood said on Sunday: “The rotation system, I’m happy with that. We talk about working our way towards the Ashes and I want the squad to arrive there fit and in form, both physically and mentally. It’s a tough tour, we know that, and one we’re prioritising.
“So we want to make sure everyone arrives at that point in as good a place as possible. We have to look after our players. I don’t think it’s acceptable to push somebody until they break and then try and pick them up.”
Asked if the policy could continue through to Australia, a tour that comes straight after the month-long T20 World Cup in India, Silverwood replied: “We have to be proactive in looking after them, so it’s certainly something that we may have to look at, yes.”
Silverwood’s admission chiefly reflects uncertainty about the global landscape later in the year, and few could argue against some rotation during the pandemic era. England’s fixtures have piled up as a result of past postponements, while the biosecure bubbles restrict players to hotels and cricket grounds, with families unable to visit.
How they cut their cloth remains a legitimate talking point, however. Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes all missed chunks of the Test winter in Sri Lanka and India, while Eoin Morgan gets a full-strength squad for the Twenty20 series that starts in Ahmedabad on Friday.
All bar Wood will feature in the seven-week Indian Premier League that is now confirmed to start on 9 April. As things stand, any player whose side make the tournament’s final on 30 May will not be asked to return early in time for the two-Test home series against New Zealand that starts two days later.
Silverwood said: “It’s difficult to change anything, so they’ll be staying for the whole IPL as it stands, yes. We’ll be looking at the [New Zealand] Test series and working our way back to see what sort of preparation we need.
“The vision that [the Test captain] Joe Root and I have got is that we become world No 1. Not only that we do that, but we stay there. I think we have the talent in there to do that. We’ve got a very good mix of experience and youth. I think the experiences the lads have got throughout this tour will stand them in good stead and we hopefully see the rewards of that further down the line.”
A Test winter that started so promisingly with a 2-0 win in Sri Lanka followed by victory in the first Test in India fizzled out chiefly due to the Indian spin pairing of Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin sharing 59 wickets through a combination of unwavering accuracy and ideal speeds for the turning pitches.
Making many changes for each Test did not help England’s cause, however, while the loss of Archer’s 90mph pace for two of the four matches due to an elbow injury was a troubling subplot given the 25-year-old’s past problems with a stress fracture in the joint.
Archer was back in training on Sunday ahead of the T20 series that acts as an important preparation for a World Cup in the same conditions in October, and Silverwood said England’s medical staff will do everything to ensure his longevity.
The England head coach said: “I wouldn’t say [I was] concerned, no. His elbow did flare up a little bit and the medical staff are managing that. Obviously we’ll monitor his progress. The medical staff are talking about how we deal with this long term. The important thing for me at the moment is that Jofra gets every resource we can provide to make sure he does have a long and successful Test career.”
Silverwood also offered words of encouragement for Bairstow, who returned from a mid-tour break only to record three ducks in four innings. At 31, and having seen England move in a different direction regarding wicketkeepers, the question of whether he can become a permanent fixture as a specialist batsman remains.
“It’s a tough tour, we’ve got to keep that in perspective,” said Silverwood. “It wasn’t only Jonny who struggled. We will regroup when we get back to England, there will be county cricket that the young batsmen can play in and build their confidence.”
Bairstow will be in the IPL, however, and while much has been made of a batting lineup that failed to muster a 50-run partnership in the final three Tests, England’s inability to match India in the spin department was also telling. Although Jack Leach delivered in the main, Dom Bess struggled after starting the series opener with four important wickets.
Silverwood said: “It’s unfair to write him off. It wasn’t that long ago he helped us to win three Test matches. Again, perspective. He is to a certain extent learning on the job in Test cricket and up until now he’s done a fantastic job for us. We need to support him because the one thing he does do is try 100% on the field, whether it’s with bat, ball or in the field. For us he’s a great asset and we’ll support him.”