Last October, Jofra Archer spoke about how he was counting down the days to freedom from his time in the Indian Premier League. He had spent 87 days in the England bubble over the summer, the most by any player, then followed that up with close to two months in the hotels of United Arab Emirates. He was looking forward to being free from his stints in bio-secure environments.
Such comments would have raised concerns in the England Cricket Board. It’s no wonder they’re looking to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to maintaining the mental health of their cricketers. Archer and Ben Stokes were rested from the Sri Lanka Test series in January, while Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Sam Curran have been rested for the first two Tests of the India series. Given Chennai is a spin-friendly track, and Bairstow is one of England’s players of spin, he will be a big loss. But the narrative shouldn’t revolve around that.
The schedule is what it is. Bairstow missing the two Chennai tests is unfortunate, however this is the only available window. England are building towards the T20 World Cup in India later this year, in which Bairstow will play a big part. He is needed for the limited over games, and will then play in the IPL. That precedes a long home summer with series against New Zealand and a blockbuster home series to India again. 2021 ends with England’s two big priorities: the T20 World Cup and the Ashes in Australia.
So England’s standpoint is clear. They need their big guns for the end of the year. It may feel strange to rest players so that they can play franchise cricket in April, but the IPL has contributed immensely to England’s limited over fortune in recent years. It will also provide more experience in India ahead of the World Cup. England have the depth to rotate across most positions, even if Archer and Stokes are unique talents. Given the buy-in from the players towards this approach, it will only serve them well.
Though it was forced, India beat Australia 2-1 in their recent series using 20 players. A similar approach throughout 2021 will serve England well. They are setting themselves up in the best situation through managing player workload and fatigue. More importantly, they are handling mental health concerns the right way. England set the template for limited overs cricket in the last four years. They are now doing the same for player welfare. It’s a welcome, much-needed change.