England’s biggest problem has not been selection or rest and rotation. It is a schedule that has given them 17 Tests, iconic tours of India and Australia, the Twenty20 World Cup and two IPLs in little more than a year. That is ridiculous.
So I agree with and understand the ECB looking after their players. They have a duty of care to them and they have done the right thing in having a policy that considers their mental health.
But the issue is when you rotate and, as I’ve said before, this would not have been the time to rotate for me. In golfing terms, a Test series in India is one of your majors. England did not give themselves the best chance to compete by rotating now.
Jos Buttler could have been used to good effect in Ahmedabad as Rishabh Pant excelled
Pant smashed it all around Ahmedabad as he tormented England’s bowling line-up
Rishabh Pant smashing it all around Ahmedabad while Jos Buttler — an England player capable of doing the same thing — is sitting in a hotel room in the same city, being rested ahead of the white-ball matches, just doesn’t look right.
Don’t get me wrong. Every reason a player has missed any part of this winter’s cricket has been a very valid one. But every decision you make as a player has repercussions down the line. They do have to take responsibility for their decisions.
Take opener Rory Burns. He made a valid and grown-up decision not to go to Sri Lanka so he could be at the birth of his first child and then have paternity leave. I back that — I once did the same thing in Australia.
But it did mean a batsman who had been struggling against off-spin left himself underprepared when he then came up against one of the greatest off-spinners to play the game, Ravichandran Ashwin, in his own backyard.
Then there’s Jonny Bairstow. He went home after doing well in Sri Lanka and struggled after returning to India for the last two Tests.
Bairstow would have had the chance to say: ‘Hold on, I’m playing well, I don’t want to be rotated. I want to make a success of Test cricket.’
OK, you could say the ECB were in full control of when players should take a break and it was all carefully planned, but there does seem to have been flexibility.
For instance, England admitted they had asked Moeen Ali to stay on after the second Test. Players can take ownership of these big decisions.
Jonny Bairstow struggled against India after being rested following the Sri Lanka series
That includes the IPL. I understand why players want to play in it. It is so hard in what can be a short career to turn down a lucrative IPL deal. And I also understand why they would want to play in both IPLs in a six-month period this year.
But the multi-contracted players could have said: ‘Hold on, the ECB are very good in saying we can do the IPL, I’ll just do one of them. This is a unique year and I’m going to put Tests first.’
Most, if not all, have decided to do both IPLs, and the consequence is that Ashley Giles and the selectors have to play them in all cricket and risk burnout or rotate them, and that weakens the Test side, as we’ve just seen.
When England do well we praise the players, but when they do badly we look at everything else, like the selectors and the domestic structure. And that is valid.
County cricket does not prepare batsmen for the challenge they have just faced.
Dom Bess was unable to deliver despite being brought up on turning pitches for Somerset
Championship matches are played at the beginning and end of every season and the Dukes ball at those times of year is conducive to medium-paced dobbers rather than spinners. When a county such as Somerset do prepare turning pitches, they are docked points.
That has to be looked at if England want to compete against the best in their own conditions but they did create problems for themselves in this 3-1 defeat.
They picked four seamers for the third Test and it turned from ball one, then they picked two seamers for the last one and there was swing and seam for the first two days.
In some cases, England put plenty of preparation and planning into giving players the best chance in these conditions, but they failed to take it.
Dom Bess has been brought up on turning pitches at Taunton. He has been well looked after by the ECB and been sent to spin camps in the subcontinent. Everything was set up for him to deliver in India.
The defeat has to be put in perspective as India’s two world-class spinners showed their class
And, let’s be honest, Bess didn’t deliver. I have a huge amount of sympathy for him because there is nothing worse than being in the middle of a cricket field thinking you have let your team and country down. But that’s how ruthless Test cricket can be. It exposes you like no other form of the game.
We still have to put this defeat in perspective. Against a formidable India team and two world-class spinners, Ashwin and Axar Patel, in their own conditions, this series is about as tough as it gets for a slightly inexperienced batting line-up.
I do find it hard to criticise an organisation who are trying to do their best for their players in the most difficult of circumstances.
We do have to consider what England are up against this year. And the need for players to carefully consider that every decision they make has consequences.