England are ‘trying to hedge their bets’ on Test selection because they want their multi-format players in good nick for the World T20 tournament later this year, according to Sky Sports pundit Rob Key.
The selectors have implemented a rotation policy during their winter tours, with players who feature in both Test and white-ball cricket being rested at various times to avoid long spells in the bio-secure bubble.
Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Sam Curran have all sat out sections of the programme, while England confirmed earlier that Moeen Ali would fly home and miss the last two Tests of the current series against India.
But Key fears England are also compromising the strength of the Test side to accommodate players who will play in the upcoming IPL, hoping it will strengthen the white-ball team’s prospects when the World T20 is held in India during the autumn.
“I get what they’re doing,” Key told Sky Sports News. “It’s very hard to argue against the rotation policy and taking people out of the bubble because of how hard it is to live in.
“But then, if players do nine to 10 weeks of the same bubble effectively, in India for the IPL, which I hold as nowhere near as important than playing for England, that’s where I start to question it.
“I think they’re trying to hedge their bets a little bit with multi-format players. What’s going to be interesting is, when the white-ball stuff (against India) comes around, the white-ball players are going to be in it all the way through.
“In theory, you could see Jos Buttler, as an example, do the T20I series, then he’ll do the 50-over series, then he might do another two months of the IPL.
“They think that is going to be the best preparation for the World T20 because it’s going to be in India with crowds and all the buzz of IPL cricket.
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“So I think there is an element of saying ‘we have to keep an eye on this World Cup that’s coming up and we have to sacrifice a little bit in Test cricket and not always play our best team.
“It didn’t change the result of this last Test – even if those guys played, they probably would have lost on that type of surface. But the fact is they’re not playing their full strength side because of what’s coming up.”
Bairstow and Wood return to the Test squad for the third match in the series against India, a day-night affair at Ahmedabad which gets under way a week on Wednesday, while Archer is also expected to be available after injury.
The series is balanced at 1-1 after India triumphed by a whopping 317-run margin in the second Test at Chennai, with spinners Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel doing the damage after Virat Kohli had won the toss and watched his batsmen post in excess of 300.
Key added: “India didn’t need to win the toss – they were the better side because they’ve got better spinners. This is probably the best team in the world, having recently won in Australia.
“This was more what we thought would happen in the first Test, when England outplayed themselves but India were just too good for them this time.
“If you go skill to skill, especially in the spin department, England can’t touch India and that’s going to be the problem.”
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