Test cricket will be prioritised during the honeymoon period of Ben Stokes’ captaincy to the extent that multi-format stars could be conspicuous by their absence in England’s limited-overs teams this summer.
In revealing a framework to support Stokes and improve an horrific run of just one win in 17 Test matches, new England supremo Rob Key said that the incoming white-ball coach must accept the A listers amongst the centrally-contracted players resting during July when Eoin Morgan’s teams face India and South Africa in six one-day and six Twenty20 internationals apiece.
England began 2022 by dispatching a shadow squad to the Caribbean for a five-match T20 series and a similar-strength 50-over group will be sent to the Netherlands in June for three matches shoehorned between the third and fourth of seven Tests this summer.
Test cricket will be prioritised during the honeymoon period of Ben Stokes’ captaincy
Rob Key has set out a framework designed to help Stokes improve an horrific run of just one win in 17 Test matches
It is a bold strategy given that the T20 World Cup is just six months away and the defence of the 50-over title follows next year but Key said: ‘What we have to concern ourselves with is the plan at the moment which is Test cricket.
‘We all know that the World Cup is there on the schedule, but at the moment focus is solely getting this Test team up and running. That can go all the way through to the end of the South African series.’
Having confirmed Stokes as England’s 81st Test captain, Key will now push on with appointing two new specialist head coaches in a return to a model last seen in 2014 when Andy Flower and Ashley Giles fought over players. This time, Key as managing director will decide who plays when and where.
‘I will make it very clear to them and it will be constantly communicated and because they are two teams at different ends of (the spectrum), actually that’s not a bad thing,’ Key said.
Multi-format stars like Jonny Bairstow (L) and Chris Woakes (R) could be absent from England’s limited-overs teams this summer
It is a bold strategy given that the defence of their 50-over World Cup title follows next year
‘You might be the white-ball coach but by the way that does not mean you are going to have the luxury of having the multi-format cricketers every single game.
‘And there is a chance that we could actually sustain that white-ball set up for longer by younger players coming in.
‘There is enough investment in the team and it’s in a good enough place to go all guns blazing for the Twenty20 World Cup.’
Time is short to appoint a Test coach, the interviews for which begin a week on Monday but Key – whose determination to split the roles will only be reconsidered should the outstanding candidate insist on overall control – is optimistic that someone will be in place ahead of the Lord’s Test against world champions New Zealand on June 2.
The process began when Andrew Strauss sounded out the likes of Gary Kirsten, Justin Langer, Ottis Gibson and Jason Gillespie on their interest during his spell as acting MD.
Managing director Key will now push on with appointing two new specialist head coaches
‘It sounds ironic, but I think the red-ball job is really attractive because there is such scope,’ said Key, who concedes an overseas appointment is inevitable.
‘It’s almost easier now that they know Ben Stokes is going to be doing it because they can start planning on how they would work with him. That is clearly going to be one of the first questions you ask in an interview.’
It is expected that Strauss and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison will be on the panel asking the questions alongside Key, whose bulging to-do list includes identifying a new national selector after the position became obsolete in the final months of Chris Silverwood’s tenure as head coach.
One policy Key has ditched is pre-planned rotations, insisting the best XI is picked on a game-by-game basis.
And that means veterans Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad could be back in tandem with the new ball in four weeks following the controversial decision to omit England’s two most prolific bowlers in Test history for a tour of the Caribbean that ended in a 1-0 defeat.
The likes of Gary Kirsten (L) and Ottis Gibson (R) have been sounded out in recent weeks
Key said: ‘We’ve just got to get the most of them while we can. They can’t just keep going on forever and ever but they certainly deserve to decide at the moment.
‘Whatever the best team is, will be picked. Then it comes down to the balance of the side, all the usual nonsense.’
It is yet to be established whether Stokes will be handed selection rights and depending on how long the new process takes to establish, the summer’s international programme could open with Key retaining the power of veto.
‘I could be the one you all point the gun at,’ he said.
‘We’ll all sit round and if I’m the one who has to tell you the team or squad, I’ll do it. I always think accountability is a load of rubbish. Chris Silverwood was in charge of everything but I bet he didn’t make every decision on selection.
It is expected Andrew Strauss (L) and Tom Harrison (R) will be on the panel asking the questions alongside Key
Jimmy Anderson (R) and Stuart Broad could be back in tandem with the new ball in four weeks
‘He might not have made one, we don’t know that. It’s a bit of a red herring. It’s for me to know who’s to blame for a bad decision, if the process isn’t working and making sure it does.’
One name that will not enter the equation is that of Jofra Archer, for whom Test cricket this summer is ‘touch and go,’ following elbow surgery.
‘I spoke to Jofra, there’s a whole plan in place for him. It’s not stupid to say he is massively important to English cricket,’ Key said.
‘Listening to the medical team it looks like white-ball cricket – I don’t think he’ll be fit for the rigours of [Test cricket]. But we don’t know, he’s going through a rehab process. We don’t have to be too rigid.
‘He might pull up fine, So what’s the risk? We’ll have those debates throughout the summer, like we will over Mark Wood, Olly Stone. They’re a real commodity, those fast bowlers, we have to get the best out of them.’
For now, the immediate aim is to get the best out of a faltering Test team.
Test cricket this summer is ‘touch and go’ for fast bowler Jofra Archer following elbow surgery