Why Eoin Morgan got his first-choice team against India when Joe Root didn’t

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England are finally putting out their first team. And people aren’t happy.

Speaking ahead of the T20 series against India, Eoin Morgan came as close as anyone has so far to articulating the principles underpinning England’s 2021 squad rotation policy. (We’re not going to call it a ‘controversial’ squad rotation policy because that’s what journalists who disagree with things say when they not-so-secretly want to say ‘stupid’. We’re not even going to stretch to ‘controversially-executed’ for the same reason.)

Asked about rumbling dissatisfaction with players missing Test matches, Morgan told Sky Sports that he, Test captain Joe Root and the rest of England’s management team regularly talk about the series or tournaments they want to target.

“Obvious things like World Cups for us [the white ball squad]. So it’s important that we all are on the same page, because I fully understand that Tests are extremely important to us and obviously the Ashes at the end of the year off the back of the World Cup are going to be extremely challenging – but also there needs to be a lot of planning and structure in behind decisions that are made.”

Expanding on how he and Root felt about the impact of rotation, he said: “If you sat both of us down at the end of the year and we won the World Cup or came close, or challenged Australia or came close, the both of us would be very, very happy with the decisions that are made.”

While Morgan never actually said so explicitly, this seems to us to confirm that the whole year is built around these two parallel goals with everything else seen as subordinate.

Sacrifices

Morgan also pointed out that it is normally he, not Root, who has to put up with his players being rested.

“To be honest, from a captain’s point of view I very rarely get our strongest squad together,” he said. “So for him not to have his strongest squad for one series is a very small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things – given bio-secure bubbles, the schedule and the pinnacle of winning an Ashes series away from home.”

A lot of fans – us included – struggled to come to terms with the notion that England deliberately compromised a Test tour of India, even if it almost certainly didn’t affect the result. This is because a Test tour of India is supposed to be one of cricket’s Big Deals.

But this is where 2021: The Year of Absolutely Everything has left us.

If you compare a Test tour of India to a T20 tour of India, the former would almost universally be considered a bigger deal. But that’s not the way England are looking at their year.

England are looking at 2021 and saying, “Okay, we can realistically only target two things here – one red ball thing and one white ball thing – so what are those things going to be and how are we going to give ourselves the best chances of winning them?”

No-one is allowed to say this out loud because the conclusions which have been reached are very uncool to India. However, the truth is that the Ashes and the World T20 are the pegs off which everything else is hanging.

What this means is that preparation for the World T20 in India outranks Test cricket in India on the basis that the latter is not massively relevant to an away Ashes series.

As Jos Buttler explained in a separate interview: “It makes complete sense to be here in India, ahead of a World Cup which will be played in these conditions, to play as best as we can in this series against what is an excellent India side, in their own conditions. It is probably the last time we’ll have a full-strength squad available.”

(Apparently England didn’t massively care about the World Test Championship in the end because that didn’t seem to be a primary target. Or perhaps they privately concluded that they didn’t actually stand much chance of qualifying.)

The IPL

For what it’s worth, this line of thinking seems to be what is informing attitudes to the IPL as well. It’s seen as a great way to test players under pressure in big T20 games in India.

According to Morgan: “As a white-ball captain planning towards World Cups, certainly over the last five years, we’ve used [the IPL] and benefited from it hugely in the development of our players and the confidence that we’ve built in the changing room in guys like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler going there and being MVP and bringing the knowledge that they’ve learnt into our changing room.

“The international schedule is what it is – it seems to cater for the majority of the time in and around the IPL. We see other boards around the world almost opening that window as well.”

At this point it is worth mentioning that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) also now recognises that there is an IPL window and acknowledges that if it doesn’t respect it, England players are a lot less likely to get picked up.

For the reasons given above, England WANT their players in the IPL.

While there is a lot of talk about England players ‘missing’ the home Test matches against New Zealand to play in the IPL, that is a bit misleading because the IPL was essentially scheduled first. While the exact dates weren’t announced, the ECB knew the window in which it was taking place and had been trying to avoid scheduling matches during that time. The New Zealand Tests only got banged in at the start of this year because coronavirus has left the board short of a bob or two and also as a thank you to Sky Sports for how they dealt with that situation.

“But I think they should be prioritising differently”

Are you angry about which matches England have chosen to prioritise and which they have chosen to play at reduced strength?

Really you should be angry that England are playing so many matches that prioritisation is necessary. If you spread all of these major engagements out over more than nine months, the national side could maybe target a Test tour of India AND the Ashes AND the World T20. Imagine!

If, however, the idea of playing a manageable volume of cricket is not one you feel you can get behind, then we’re afraid you’re just going to have to accept that there is no universally agreed upon hierarchy of international cricket fixtures.

Unless something changes, players are going to be rested from England games, and for as long as players are being rested from England games, there is a pretty good chance that they’ll be rested from games you care about.

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21 comments

  1. I would have liked the year to involve a less ridiculous amount of cricket.

    But the people who make the decisions about how much cricket is played, and the people who decide which bits of cricket to prioritise, are not necessarily the same people, so those two things can be evaluated separately, I think. Certainly, most fans want there to have been a better plan around how much cricket was going to be played, but this doesn’t then mean they can’t question the decisions made once this amount of cricket was scheduled.

    The admission that 2021 has created a situation where England can only really prioritise one Test series is pretty telling, though. If that’s something that decision-makers already realised at the start of the year, the decision to throw in additional matches this year is even less understandable than it was previously.

    1. It’s true that you can retain focused displeasure for the rotation decisions made, but we’d argue the outright anger should still be reserved for those drawing up the schedule.

      The extra matches are indeed the last thing the England team needs, but it’s also true the ECB feels like it owes Sky Sports bigly after last year.

  2. The ECB respects the IPL window does that mean the PCB have a policy of not respecting the IPL window?

    Is that why no cricketer who plays for Pakistan has been picked for any IPL team since 2009?

  3. I find myself understanding the situation without liking it. I find myself unable to get hot under the collar about it.

    As KC has oft said, the fixture congestion for England this year was largely arranged pre-Covid. The notion that, after the financial hit of 2020, the ICC and/or ECB would use Covid as an excuse to lighten the load rather than layer on yet more is fanciful, commercially.

    I worry that cricket is in danger of slaying the golden-egg laying goose for reasons other than the fixture-diarrhoea that is the England 2021 schedule. Don’t get me started on all of those franchise T20 tournaments and The Hundred.

    1. Those are our feelings really. Just sort of downhearted at where we find ourselves.

      The New Zealand Tests will be an interesting, ahem, test. They’ve been put on as an emergency money-maker/favour in the full knowledge that they’ll be diminished events – both home and away teams are likely to have players at the IPL.

      The public’s willingness to swallow all international fixtures as “top level cricket” must surely be tested by this kind of thing. We suppose there will be full crowds though, if only for the ‘novelty of attending a live sports event’ reasons.

      1. Those who attend bilateral ODIs and T20Is have (as Eoin Morgan implicitly notes) long been aware of the risk that they won’t necessarily see all the big names, and in many cases the ‘day out’ more than compensates for that.

        For some fans, the same will be true of Tests, and for ‘purists’ I suspect the lure of live cricket will be too great to ignore anyway, so I would agree with the prediction of ‘full’ crowds, but I get the feeling that the ‘brand’ (yes, I know) of Test cricket is more reliant on the idea that you are seeing the best players, rather than the associated fireworks/90s dance hits/regular boundaries/etc.

      2. Depends what your definition of “the best players” is.

        The eighties band name soundalike Ishan Kishan was awarded a debut in a big stadium T20 bilateral between India and England. Was that “trying out a newbie ahead of the really big tournament ie the T20 World Cup” or was that “India picking its best team”? Looked “best team” because the kid looked like $1M. Same kid might have holed out ball one.

        By the same token, Chris Jordan, Tom Curran and Ben Stokes all looked under par in the same match.

  4. We’re potentially returning an equivalent of England touring Australia and England A touring the West Indies or India, and both being called England/MCC because it suited everyone to do that. I wasn’t around, but I think it worked quite well? I don’t think people stopped following England, or were confused about what was going on.

    If multiple England teams start touring the country organised by different promoters and with completely different personnel then maybe we’ve gone back a few decades too far, but for the moment it all seems fairly reasonable.

  5. Could we double opportunities by having proper 5 day B team Test series? England B vs India B, Pakistan B vs Australia B, etc? While England vs India goes on in England this summer, England B could be playing, say, Australia or NZ B.

    B Tests gives people chance to show their skills to make it to the regular main (A) team. Most countries like India have a lot of talent that can never make it to the 11 slots in the regular team.

  6. I think the arguments used to justify the actions of BCCI also serve well for the ECB. Ultimately the boards, being corporate entities that aim for profit (as Ged points out) make decisions that serve this final (and in the case of BCCI, only) purpose and it would be in their best interests that these decisions are aligned with the wishes of the public that ultimately generates said profit. It doesn’t seem a stretch to thus believe that this kind of rotation policy that makes sure England win World Cups and the Ashes is exactly what the larger English public wants – otherwise they’d simply turn off their television sets and advertisement revenue would lose meaning. This can be evidenced by the commenters on this very site: given a choice between ‘a decent India tour and a decent Ashes’ and ‘a half-assed India tour and a thumping Ashes victory’, it’s my guess that most would choose the latter. There is no right or wrong in this – it is simply a choice one makes even if inadvertently.

    1. We feel the need to coin a term like “First XI International Cricket” to cover only those engagements for which no compromises are made. It would make distinguishing between the different implicit tiers of Test (and white ball) cricket simpler.

      1. Another approach would be for ICC to come up with two calendars: the Future Tours Programs and Fuck These Tours Program. Every team shall be assigned an equal proportion of matches from the FTP and FTTP so interest and apathy are evenly distributed on a global scale.

  7. I fully expect the first choice Test team to get spanked in Australia anyway, just like usual. Does finishing second in the Ashes count as “coming close”?

    I do kind of miss the days when England’s ODI side was completely half-arsed and a way of gently introducing future Test players into international cricket, I’d take that over compromising a Test tour of India to help prepare for the World T20, but I recognize I’m a man out of time; the game has moved on, no matter how much I don’t like it. I don’t blame the players (or the boards, more grudgingly) for following the money.

    1. Don’t know if that’s a man out of time exactly. We imagine the majority of heavily invested England cricket fans probably feel the same. It’s just that there are also a lot of people who care about World Cups.

      We care about both.

    2. The bit that rankles, of course, is the fact that the cricket authorities put us through the “Ashes diarrhoea” of 2013 to 2015 precisely to shift the schedule away from the conflict between world cup and Ashes preparedness.

      To some extent this new “diary clash” is a force majeure thing due to the pandemic, but to some extent the calendar crush is inevitable with three formats (at least), each vying for share of cricket-lovers brain space.

      I don’t miss England’s ODI half-arsedness though. It always felt amateurish to me and more likely to fail than the current management approaches.

      I don’t think Ashes 2021/2022 is a foregone conclusion by any means. If what was largely India ‘B’ can beat Australia in Australia, England really does have a chance with the current batch of stars. Not 50%/50%, not “likely to win” but as realistic a chance as we had ahead of 2010/11, in my view.

      1. The diary clash was planned pre-pandemic though. The only change is that they were due to play what is now the 2022 World T20 at the end of 2021. What is now the 2021 World T20 was originally supposed to be the 2020 World T20.

        Do you follow that?

  8. How long do you think before we have completely separate white ball and red ball teams to manage issues with overly busy schedules, squad rotations, conflicts with the IPL, etc?

    1. In many ways that arrangement does make life easier. It’s just that when players perform really well in one format, it becomes more tempting to pick them in another.

      1. The formats are growing further and further apart. Yesterday England scored 157-2 in 18 overs. If they had been playing a Test on the same pitch, against the same bowlers, with three days to spare, they wouldn’t have reached that score.

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