To Melbourne then and the final rounds of the Big Bash. If you’ve been wrapped up in following Test cricket, you might have missed that the Renegades finished last this year, four wins out of 14, a losing streak that has run in parallel with a dismal run of form from their captain, Aaron Finch.
His season started with a bang, back-to-back innings of 114, 60, and 75 in the one-day series against India and finished in one long whimper – 18, eight, none, 14, 13, none, 10, four, six for the Renegades, (caught mid-on, strangled down the leg side, run out backing up, a rum lbw, bowled by a ricochet off his thigh guard … it goes on).
It had been, he said “an absolute shocker” of a season. It wasn’t for lack of trying, “The harder I trained,” he said, “the worse I got, which is the opposite to what everyone tells you to do.”
Finch did not want to blame his poor form on the circumstances, but when he was asked whether they had an impact, he wasn’t about to deny that they had an effect on him, either. “My wife worked it out the other day that I’ve had 20 or 21 days since April that I haven’t been in lockdown or in a bubble,” he said.
It has taken a toll. “Being locked up for months is pretty unsustainable when you’re away from your families and your families can’t travel.” Finch has a couple of weeks off to enjoy some rare time away from the game, then he is going to lead Australia’s white-ball tour to New Zealand, two weeks of quarantine, followed by five T20 games.
Finch is not the only player who has spoken out about finding lockdown life hard. And like everyone else in the game, he has got one eye on how England are handling the problem while on tour in Sri Lanka and India, rotating Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, resting Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood, Jos Buttler and Sam Curran for some matches and Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes for others.
“You notice what England is doing with their squads. There are guys that aren’t travelling for the first two Tests and then coming in. If the Covid bubbles continue for a long time, that will be something that would be looked into, no doubt.”
Australian praise for an English system feels a little unfamiliar for those of a certain age, who grew up reading all about how much the English had to learn from the Australian way. But England’s coach, Chris Silverwood, will welcome the support. “We’ve decided to rest and rotate; we’ve decided we need to look after the players, I do believe we have to be proactive in looking after them, rather than wait until there’s a problem,” he said. “I’d just ask supporters to understand why we do what we do.”
Good to get the point across before England find themselves three down for spit in the first innings in Chennai next week and everyone starts asking where Bairstow is.
Plenty of those supporters do understand. We’ve heard enough (from Marcus Trescothick, Michael Yardy, and Jonathan Trott among others) about the effects long tours can have on mental health to know England’s management ought to be applauded for taking a holistic approach towards form and fitness.
It would be hard enough to steer the squad through one of the busiest years of English cricket (17 Tests against Sri Lanka, India, New Zealand and Australia, one-day and T20 series against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the T20 World Cup), even without the isolation, anxiety and boredom of living in the bubble. The easiest thing to do would have been to flog the players through it.
Whether England will be rewarded for it is another question, but it is worth remembering that whatever happens in India in the next few weeks, England are still building towards those twin peaks of the World T20 and the Ashes at the back end of the year.
The hope is that the decisions taken now will pay off then, that we will be glad they had Wood and Bairstow and Sam Curran fit, ready and refreshed for the five T20 matches against India at the back end of the Test series, when the same players come up against them again in the World T20 six months later, that the decision to rest Archer for the Sri Lanka series will be vindicated when he is running in at the Gabba in November.
The major problem is where the Indian Premier League fits into all this, given a number of the squad who are being rested from the Tests will take part in that. Some, you can be sure, would want to play every game for England and every game in the IPL, if they had the choice, which is why England’s management are right to take the option away from them in these most unusual times where last year’s IPL only finished in November.
It is a shame the Test series had to give. But the alternative would be to pick a fight with the players by insisting they have to choose to stick with England and skip some or all of the IPL. It is better, and less disruptive, to go about it this way round. Especially since a couple of the players in question, Bairstow and Wood, do not have Test match contracts.