Sticking to a winning combination is considered a cricketing truism, but England think differently in era of rotation and bio-bubbles.
Stuart Broad for James Anderson is a possibility. Ben Foakes for Jos Buttler is a certainty. Olly Stone and Moeen Ali for Jofra Archer and Dom Bess respectively are options. In Covid times and a bio-secure environment, the England team management puts a bigger emphasis on rotation rather than retaining a winning combination. Some changes in the England team are on the cards for the second Test, starting on Saturday.
Broad for Anderson?
Sounds crazy, especially on the heels of his fifth-day masterclass in the first Test at Chepauk, in which he broke India’s backbone in a five-over spell. Of late, though, Anderson and Broad haven’t been playing together much, with an eye to their workload management. England adopted the formula after cricket entered the bio-bubble last year. Anderson played the first Test against the West Indies at Southampton in July 2020. He was rested for the second Test against the men from the Caribbean before he returned for the third, while Broad played both the second and the third Tests.
The following home series against Pakistan, too, saw Broad and Anderson hunting in a pair in all three Tests, but in Sri Lanka last month, Broad played the first Test, while Anderson replaced him for the second. The latter was England’s preferred choice in the series opener against India and head coach Chris Silverwood has dropped a hint that Broad will be in the XI for the second Test.
“It’s hard to leave a player like Anderson out… He is a class act. But Stuart Broad didn’t play in the last game and we have many bowlers here who we could play at any given point,” Silverwood told reporters on Wednesday.
Anderson is 38, while Broad is 34. So managing their workload in a year when England are due to play 17 Tests becomes important. As Silverwood insisted, the tourists will rotate without “weakening” the team. Anderson has 611 wickets from 158 Tests, Broad has 517 from 144. So there’s virtually no difference in terms of quality on offer.
At the same time, Anderson has always been India’s nemesis irrespective of conditions. He shook India’s batting in Mumbai in 2006. He worked over Sachin Tendulkar in Kolkata in 2012 with reverse swing that ‘reversed’. Anderson tormented Virat Kohli in England in 2014. The Chepauk special three days back was his latest. Arid stats say, Anderson has taken 31 wickets at a shade over 30 runs per wicket in 11 Tests in India, but impact-wise, the great fast bowler remains unmatched.
In seven Tests in India so far, Broad has accounted for 10 scalps at 53.90, a stat that the England think-tank has to consider. Also, Anderson is going through an ‘Asian’ purple patch at the moment – the Chepauk burst came on the back of a six-for in Galle.
Silverwood, though, is looking at the bigger picture. “I’m not reluctant to change a winning team if it’s the best thing to do for the players and the team and the longevity of it,” he said.
Foakes taking the gloves from Buttler is a certainty, for the latter has flown home and will return for the ODI series. Again, this is part of the team’s rotation policy. Moving from one bio-bubble to another can affect players’ psyche and this is where rotation helps. This is why Jonny Bairstow returned home after the Sri Lanka tour, the England cricket set-up ignoring criticism from pundits. Bairstow will be available from the third Test onwards in India.
Similarly, Buttler has been allowed to cool his heels and his replacement, Foakes, is widely considered the best England wicketkeeper at the moment, notwithstanding that he played his last Test two years ago. A Test average north of 41, including a century and a half-century in five Tests, attests Foakes’ batting credentials. In fact, he has a better Test batting average than Buttler (34.53). However, Buttler is a 50-Test veteran and knows Indian conditions better than a lot of his teammates due to being an IPL regular. An impact batsman, Buttler has the ability to singlehandedly take a game away from the opponents.
“You run the risk of the result being different, but you could play the same team and the result would be different because we know India will come back hard,” Silverwood stuck to his guns.
Bess was a mixed bag in the first Test. The off-spinner bowled pretty decently to claim four wickets in the first innings. The delivery to dismiss Virat Kohli was top-draw – nice drift away to make the batsman play a little in front of his body, followed by turn that took the inside edge to Ollie Pope at short leg. Bess, though, bowled very poorly in the second innings, struggling for line and length and bowling a string of full-tosses.
Moeen is a genuine all-rounder with 2,782 runs and 181 wickets from 60 Tests. Two-and-a-half years ago, he out-bowled Ravichandran Ashwin in England’s win at Southampton. Silverwood expectedly stood by young Bess, but in Buttler’s absence, Moeen’s selection could offer more batting depth.
There’s a school of thought in the England camp that all three frontline fast bowlers should play the third Test, a day-night pink-ball affair in Ahmedabad from February 24. Pink-ball Tests demand seaming conditions – at least 6mm live grass on the pitch. The pink ball also offers more sideways movement than its red counterpart because of an extra coat of lacquer. Little wonder then that England want Anderson, Broad and Archer in top shape for the third Test, which could be an important match in the series’ context. Thus, Stone for Archer in the second Test is not ruled out.
Stone is quick and can make the ball rear from back-of-a-length. Archer stuck to this template in the first Test and was rewarded with Rohit Sharma’s wicket in the first innings. The head coach, however, is bold and like India, England, too, have a meaty reserve bench to fall back on.
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