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England and IPL

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Jos_Buttler_England_cricketEngland’s loss in the final of the World Twenty20 was a disappointment but it did solidify their growing status as a one-day force to be reckoned with. Ever since their limp performance at last year’s World Cup, England’s one-day cricket has been transformed and the stock of their players has risen as a result. Whilst only five English players were picked for this year’s IPL, the competition may soon be full of them.

England’s resurgence has been as much due to a change in attitude as anything. When Andrew Strauss was appointed Director, England Cricket, he confirmed that white ball cricket would be viewed just as importantly as Test cricket, traditionally the clear first priority in the English game.

After removing Peter Moores as Head Coach, Strauss appointed Trevor Bayliss, a renowned one-day coach, ahead of Jason Gillespie, who’s success with Yorkshire in first-class cricket has not been mirrored in the shorter forms. It was a significant shift.

With the newly prioritised one-day formats has come a more relaxed attitude to England players playing in T20 tournaments around the world. David Willey was given time off an England Lions programme this winter to play in Australia’s Big Bash and Adil Rashid was not chosen as back-up spinner for the tour to South Africa but instead allowed to play in the same competition.  

Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Chris Jordan, newly signed by Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, are first choice England one-day players and this year are playing full IPL seasons. Where previously English players would only be able to play a certain chunk of tournaments, in order to be available for county cricket before the first Test match, they are now being encouraged to stay the course. This obviously makes them a more attractive investment for teams.

As does their improved performances. England have some of the most exciting players in world cricket and are finally matching the leading one-day nations for skill and panache. Teams are taking notice: Jordan’s performances in the T20 World Cup, particularly bowling at the death, earned him his stint with Kohli and co.

 

This shift is important and in some ways surprising. Strauss has been instrumental in this more enlightened policy, finally seeing the need for England players to experience playing in various T20 tournaments to learn new one-day skills and be exposed to different thinking. Arguably it has been a realisation that has come too late.

When Strauss was England’s Test captain back in 2012 he was adamant that his players could not miss any England action to take part in the IPL. It was this stance that started the breakdown in relationship between him and Kevin Pietersen and whilst missing a Test match might still be unpalatable to the public, Strauss has said that players could be rested for Test matches to help prepare for one-day tasks.

It is now clear policy that one-day players can skip England duty or de-prioritise it. Willey did it over the winter and Jordan and Buttler are doing the same. Both have been in and around England’s Test team for the last year and whilst neither of them were likely to play in the first Test at Headingley against Sri Lanka on 19th May some good first-class form leading up to that game could have forced the issue. Instead, Strauss has allowed them to prioritise one-day skills over Test match ambitions.

This is a good thing for English players and should only benefit their one-day cricket. The conservatism of England’s play in limited overs formats has held them back and meant they have only won one global one-day tournament, the World T20 in 2010. At the 2015 World Cup, England were playing a game so far removed from everyone else it could have been WG Grace strapping on his pads. But no longer.

 

Pietersen has many faults but he was right about one thing: rubbing shoulders with top class international players and experiencing different conditions can only benefit a player. Whilst the benefits of the IPL and Big Bash have been recognised for years, the decision to allow players to play in these competitions has now been made much easier by the divergence in personnel for Test cricket and the one-day formats.  

Back when Strauss was captain, seven or eight of the Test team played one-day cricket so allowing those players, such as Pietersen, to play full IPL seasons and miss Test matches was trickier and more divisive.

Now, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Steven Finn are the only players involved in all of England’s cricket which means it is less difficult for Strauss to allow Buttler to play in the IPL knowing that he has Jonny Bairstow in place for Test matches. It also means there are more players available for the IPL and those are England’s premier one-day players, performing regularly on the international stage.

Not all players will be allowed to go. The thought of Root, or any of the first choice Test team, missing a Test match to play in a T20 competition still remains almost impossible to imagine despite what Strauss says. Either the IPL will have to move or England will have to shift their Test matches to later in the summer. Neither seem likely to happen in the short term.

If this more relaxed stance continues, as it rightly should, then more England players are likely to appear in the IPL and other T20 competitions around the world. As the team plays better and individuals come to prominence in the world game, more teams will be looking to England, rather than Australia or South Africa, for their star players. 

Test cricket will remain the number one priority but the value for England’s one-day cricketers of the IPL is now clear. Expect to see more of them.



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