Chris Silverwood stands by England’s selection policy ahead of India series

Vithushan Ehantharajah
·5-min read
<p>England will rotate their Test side in India</p> (ECB)

England will rotate their Test side in India


It is not often a comprehensive series win in Asia, which saw England notch a fifth successive away victory in Test matches for the first time in over a century, is followed by selection talk.

But as the England squad gets ready to depart Sri Lanka for the next leg of their winter tour, there remains confusion regarding the starting XI over the coming weeks.

The majority of the squad will make their way to India for a four-match series starting a week on Friday. They will join Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Rory Burns who missed the Sri Lanka series and are currently going through the six-day quarantine period.

READ MORE: England couldn’t be in better shape, says Root

Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Sam Curran are flying home and will make their way back to India to rejoin the party for the third and fourth Test, swapping in for three others who will return home. First choice wicketkeeper Jos Buttler is available for the first Test but will leave at its conclusion, missing the remaining three matches. He will then head back to India from the United Kingdom on 23 February and prepare for the white-ball leg of three Twenty20s and three one-dayers which starts on 13 March.

Jonny Bairstow is among those who will miss the first and second TestsECB
Jonny Bairstow is among those who will miss the first and second TestsECB

The "why" is relatively self-explanatory. With 15 Tests and a T20 World Cup to come, selectors and coaches, in conjunction with the players, decided that multi-format cricketers need to be managed more carefully. The toll of quarantine periods and living in general isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic puts an extra strain on physical and mental welfare. Those featuring in red and white-ball squads feel this more than most.

With these extra considerations comes an acceptance that England will get through a winter without putting out their best Test side. For instance, Bairstow and Buttler will miss five Tests between them despite finishing the Sri Lanka series second and third in the run-scoring charts behind captain Joe Root and his 426 runs.

Bairstow's 139 at number three featured key hands of 35 not out and 29 in both chases. Buttler's exemplary wicketkeeping was underpinned by 131 runs including an unbeaten 46 to seeing England over the line in a chase of 164 to win the second Test by six wickets. Both showcased their wares as the most reliable players of spin bowling.

Thus, many have queried this proactive rotation policy ahead of a marquee tour England have only won once since 1984/85. Addressing those concerns on Tuesday, head coach Chris Silverwood gave it unequivocal backing.

"I stand by it. We've got to look after our people. We're spending a lot of time locked in hotel rooms inside bio-secure bubbles and it's not easy. It's good that we're being proactive and looking after people

"What can you say? We've decided to rest and rotate, we've decided we need to look after the players. And I do believe we have to be proactive in looking after them, rather than wait until there's a problem. So I'd just ask them to understand why we do what we do, we're resting in the best interests of that player and equally to get the best out of them long term."

There will be a degree of flexibility, though, as outlined by national selector Ed Smith last week, the cricketers are fully on board with how things stand at present. The issue is clouded somewhat by the Indian Premier League.

A number of those involved in this resting strategy will feature in the competition, which is due to take place from the end of March into May. Of the fixtures on the horizon, could that not be the one that gives way?

"I'm perfectly happy with the system we're using at the moment," answered Silverwood when that argument was put to him. He was equally matter-of-fact when asked about not having access to a full-strength squad.

Chris Silverwood wants to minimise the toll of quarantine periods and self-isolationGetty
Chris Silverwood wants to minimise the toll of quarantine periods and self-isolationGetty

"Well it's not the world we live in, they can't be with me all the time. I'm perfectly happy we're being proactive and factoring in breaks."

Otherwise, Silverwood remains optimistic about what lies ahead. Sri Lanka was his fourth Test series win as head coach, with just one loss, his first in New Zealand after he took on the role in October 2019.

New faces have bedded in as established players have remained at the fore. Victory in Sri Lanka, albeit against a relatively weak side, was another marker of progress.

"I think we learned we've a lot of character. We showed a lot of fight and a lot of resilience. To win the way we did – having lost both tosses – we had to do it the hard way. We've learned that the game plan we've got can work here as well."

Along with the return of Stokes, Archer and Burns, Moeen Ali is available for selection once more after testing positive for Covid-19 upon arriving into Sri Lanka and missing both tests. Ollie Pope should also be deemed match fit by the start of next week as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.

In terms of the World Test Championship, only a win in India will see England keep alive their hopes of making it to the inaugural final this summer. There is also a five-match home series against India and an Ashes in Australia which immediately follows the T20 World Cup in India at the end of the year.

"We want everything," said Silverwood when pressed if there were successes he coveted most in 2021. But the immediate prospect of India will go some way to reinforcing the character his team has displayed so far.

"We're going there with our eyes open. We know it's going to be a tough challenge. We know they're an excellent team, especially in our own conditions, and we respect that. But I think it's an exciting challenge. We are in a good place. We're constancy growing. But we completely respect how big a challenge it is.

"To pitch yourself against arguably one of the best teams in the world is a great place to be. It's the start of 9 Tests against them before we go to Australia. It's going to be a great experience for us."

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