Originally, those participating in the IPL were to be given the New Zealand series off, which is set to begin at Lord’s on 2 June given the clash with the latter stages of the competition. However, with the franchise competition postponed due to the severe Covid-19 crisis in India, nine of the 11 English participants – not all of them Test players – are now back in the UK currently in airport hotels serving their quarantine period.
Those are due to end at the weekend, and with a round of Championship matches beginning on 20 May, there is an opportunity to reacclimatise to the red ball ahead of the two-Test series.
While there is a desire to utilise those who have come home early, not least from fans put out by the IPL given priority over Test cricket, Giles, managing director of men’s cricket, states participation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“All these guys are currently in quarantine and have had a number of spells in quarantine and bubbles in this last period. Some of it’s their choice, I get that. We need to look after them, with the amount of cricket they’ve got coming up, we’re not going to rush or force them back into cricket.
“Chris Silverwood (head coach) will work with each and every one of them, as will our medical teams on what’s best for their progress. On the matter of playing cricket, they are all different. We know historically that Chris Woakes likes to get more overs under his belt with the red ball before he’s up to speed. Others react differently to that, so it’s a case by case basis.”
It is likely to mean a player like Jos Buttler will not be pushed into action, opening the door for Ben Foakes to keep wicket in his first home Test match. The Surrey wicketkeeper played the last three India Tests after Buttler returned home as part of the winter’s rest-and-rotation plans.
At the same time, Jonny Bairstow, who does not have a Test central contract but picked up four caps at the start of the year, may want to build on his surprise comeback. Likewise, Woakes, who did not make an appearance in Sri Lanka or India due to being a close contact with Moeen Ali who tested positive for Covid at the start of the tour of the subcontinent, may express a desire to add to his 39 caps. Sam Curran, too, could be keen on filling the allrounder gap left by Ben Stokes who is recovering from a broken finger sustained at the IPL.
There will still be opportunities for those originally pencilled into the New Zealand series to get their chance to impress. For instance, Ollie Robinson and Craig Overton in particular still retain hopes to feature given the returnees because of injuries to Jofra Archer (who returned to action for Sussex 2nd XI last week), Olly Stone and Stokes.
Part of the reasoning behind who gets the nod will also come down to the programme this year, which features plenty of multi-format cricket. Five Tests against India are to come this summer, along with limited-overs matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. That leads into a tour of Pakistan, the T20 World Cup, an Ashes and then a tour of the Caribbean which will finish in March 2021.
Though England are keen to abandon their rest-and-rotation policy that formed the basis of their selection at the start of the year, there is an appreciation that the need for bubbles during the summer along with the schedule will mean similar management is required.
“We have got an awful lot of cricket coming up,” said Giles. “We only have seven Tests between now and the Ashes, but that’s a lot more than our competition at the moment. That with the amount of other cricket we have to play, we almost want to get this tapering towards the Ashes. We have got to get that right. Is that against New Zealand? I don’t know. That’s something for us to continue to discuss.
“What we do know and what’s not going to change is that given the weight of cricket, given the Ashes series, and we don’t know what conditions that’s going to be played in at the moment with regard to a Covid environment, we are going to need a bigger group of players still. We may also choose against New Zealand to look at some new faces.”