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By Chris Marshall
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Cricket Debate: RIP Your Best XI

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I have discussed the rotation policy before (and no doubt will do again), but for now I think we need to accept the “good old days” are long gone of having your best XI and sticking with it.

That does not mean that your should not know your best XI though, as until you know your best XI I am not sure how you can decide on your rotation policy, or indeed your development plan.

Let me be clear: I have no issue with the rotation process at all, and certainly not during these COVID-19 effected times.

I think England are currently suffering through a combination of things:

  • they have not worked out how to use the rotation policy
  • they seem confused as to whether there is a difference between being a white ball cricketer or a red ball cricketer
  • they seem uncomfortable with decision making.

Rotation Policy

Ten out of ten for its introduction, five out of ten for its implementation. I think this is an example of them being uncomfortable implementing policies, which stems from being less than great at decision making.

I think there is a a real issue across all sports these days that there is just not enough time to develop players: there are no friendlies, every match has to be a sell out i.e. involve the big names, every series seems to have a cup that “must be won” and the ICC World Test Championship has made it all but impossible.

I think England need to prioritise my series. Facts are facts: India are better than Sri Lanka so if you want to beat India you need your best players available and in form. It is virtually impossible because of COVID-19 and the need to protect the mental health to achieve this combination: available and in form as in “normal” times you would use Sri Lanka to ensure that a) all your main players got a game and b) a few development players gained experience.

Once that is not an option tough decisions are required, and this is where England seem to be failing.

I am a fan of Bairstow but I am going to use him as an example because he “ticks most boxes” in my theory.

No longer a central contract (red ball) he was previously dropped and told to work on his game (an impossibility with no red ball cricket to play), yet as soon as this years test came around he was required. Now I actually think “we” know Bairstow really well. A game or two against Sri Lanka wasn’t going to tell us much: he needs to be measured against a sustained run in the team, in the same position, against a variety of bowlers to see how he has worked on his development areas. I would have left him at home for the Sri Lanka tests, then brought him out to India knowing that he was going to bat number 3 in all 4 tests, subject to injury. I don’t think we need to learn anymore about his white ball abilities so I would have given him time off from the white ball tour, after all he will develop his skills more at the IPL, by which times the country will hopefully be back to near normality so he can have a full season of international, county and franchise cricket before the T20 World Cup.

The ‘trick’ is layered priorities, and then assess each player against them, make a decision, communicate it, and stick to it.

At this level we are told time after time that it’s confidence and mental strength that are key to success, yet we don’t seem to concentrate on these two attributes when we look at the rotation policy.

If You’re Good Enough You’re Good Enough

Seems to me that we have created the myth that you are either a red ball or white ball player, with only a few capable of playing both.

Sure some will be better at one than the other, and some will be equally good at each, but generally I can’t help but think that if you are an elite level cricketer you are going to good enough at both.

There are aways exceptions to every rule, but let me stick with generalisations for now. My gut feel is that if I spend 80% of my time playing one format I will perform better in that format, but mainly because of form and experience, not ability.

My point is that if you are going to have a rotation policy, you can’t have a specialisation policy: the two are not compatible. If you are going to specialise you start by prioritising that format for the players, and you build their rotation around that come what may. If you are putting rotation first then you have to accept players playing in both formats more.

Decision Making

Which brings me to a real bug bearer of mine: the prevalence of only appointing former players to coaching and managerial positions. Why not bring in some people with proven management skills to help with the decision making process, to bring a different approach.

Maybe if they start at the top with better decision making it will work its way down: seriously only one spinner in a test in India!!

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