England have announced their squad for the first two Tests of their tour of India. Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Rory Burns join the group after missing the trip to Sri Lanka, while Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Sam Curran will return home at the end of the second Test in Galle, which starts on Friday.
This may be a bitter pill for Bairstow to swallow, having announced his intention to be “a huge contributor to English cricket in the Test arena” when he returned to the long-form game for the first Sri Lanka Test after an absence of more than a year. He proceeded to make 47 and an unbeaten 35. But Ed Smith, England’s national selector, said on Thursday that the move had been agreed before the tour began.
“We signalled before the start of the Sri Lanka tour that no multiformat player would be asked to play in every series of the post-Christmas schedule,” Smith said.
“I spoke at length to Jonny yesterday and at Loughborough [before the squad departed] and said: ‘You’re in every squad format as it stands, there’s a fantastic opportunity coming up in Sri Lanka where we expect you to get gametime, but at some point you’re going to need your rest too.’ And he completely understands that and endorses it. It felt like the right thing to do for Jonny to take his break now, and then he can continue on when he comes back in the Test squad with the white-ball squad afterwards.”
Further rotation is planned across the two months before England return from India with Jos Buttler, for example, scheduled to return home after the first Test in Chennai. This will leave Ben Foakes as the senior wicketkeeper for the second Test, with James Bracey among the reserves and Bairstow, along with Wood and Curran, returning for the third match in the four-Test series. Ollie Pope will travel to India and be added to the squad when fit after a shoulder injury.
“To me it’s quite obvious that selection principles have to flex given the circumstances, given the amount of cricket that England has and given the way cricket teams have to live and travel in the Covid era,” Smith said. “If you keep people in a bubble unchanged for three months 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.”
India’s series win in Australia, where they used 20 players of whom only two appeared in all four matches, demonstrated the potential importance of having experienced cover in every position, which England’s rotation policy will encourage. “You hesitate before using the words radical or innovative because they can attract the wrong kind of attention, but this is something we passionately believed in,” Smith said. “The concept of a tour needs to be modernised. We don’t travel by boat. We don’t go away for five months at a time. We need to be more nimble, and if we need to break a tour up so we can get people out for their good and for England’s good we’ll do it. We’ve had incredible support from the players. They know we’re doing it for the right reasons, for the players and for the team.”
England have announced their team for the second Test in Galle, starting on Friday, with Jimmy Anderson replacing Stuart Broad in the only change to the side that won the first match.