Ben Stokes’ knee hampered him when bowling against South Africa © Getty Images
Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, has defended his decision to allow key England players to participate in the IPL despite subsequent injury concerns.
Both Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes were obliged to sit-out games during the recent ODI series against South Africa after sustaining what have been described as minor knee and quad “niggles” respectively.
But with the Champions Trophy starting in a couple of days, the decision to allow such important players to spend almost the entire IPL season in India is sure to come under more scrutiny. While the England team management remain confident both men will be fit for their opening Trophy match against Bangladesh on Thursday, there is a possibility that Stokes will be fit to play only as a specialist batsman.
Strauss, however, is confident there are many benefits in IPL experience. Echoing comments made by Stokes and Woakes – and before them, the likes of Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen – Strauss felt the experience in India could help
“The players who have gone over there have benefitted massively from the experience,” he said. “We’ve seen that already with the maturity that Ben is playing with the bat. And it looked like he’s improved his bowling at the death tremendously, too.
“I think Chris Woakes was saying that to go there, to learn from the best players in the world and pit themselves against the best players in the world…they come back from that experience knowing they’re as good as anyone out there. The deep-rooted belief they get from that is massively important.
“I’ve always seen the massive advantages of our players going out there. And that was on the back of us under-performing in white-ball cricket for year after year after year, and clearly falling behind some of the other teams.”
There is no evidence that either injury was sustained in India. Indeed, you could argue that both men would have been required to play far more had they remained in England and been utilised by their counties. Moeen Ali, another of England’s allrounders, also missed the final ODI against South Africa with a minor groin strain and he did not play in the IPL.
“That is the slight risk you take when you make people available for a chunk of cricket that is outside the international schedule,” Strauss said. “Injuries are part and parcel of life, but on one hand you weigh-up the potential risk and on the other you ask what they can potentially gain from that experience. That’s what forms the decision.
“Thankfully I don’t think any of those injuries are of massive concern at this stage. It’s very much precautionary that they’re not playing at this stage. We want them to hit the ground running in the Champions Trophy.
“Having said that, we’ve always got to balance that great opportunity for them with the schedules and workloads. And we just need to keep looking at this on a year by year and case by case basis. There will be times where it may be the smart thing not to play and at other times it might be the smart thing for them to play in the IPL.
“Up until now, we’ve had mature, adult conversations with players about their availability. That’s why some of the guys came back for those Ireland internationals and some of the guys stayed at the IPL. And that’s what we’ll continue to do. When the opportunity is right for players to go – and when we feel they’ll benefit from that experience – we’ll try and make it possible.”
While Stokes, Woakes and Jos Buttler were permitted to miss the two ODIs against Ireland in order to remain at the IPL this year, Strauss baulked at the suggestion that players would ever be allowed to miss a Test in similar circumstances.
“Personally, I think that’s unlikely,” he said. “When you get to the stage where you’re missing Test matches to play in IPL that sends out a very strong message about where your priorities are and I would be uncomfortable with that.”
It is a delicate balance Strauss must strike. As well as providing opportunities for players to benefit from experience in overseas leagues, he is also keen to help them benefit financially. And while there is no sense of the contractual wrangles that are currently clouding Australian cricket, as more money floods into the game, it is an issue on which the ECB will have to remain alert.
“There are always negotiations between players and employers around what is a fair structure for salaries and pay,” Strauss said. “Our current agreement is tied in with our TV deal that runs till 2019. There will be conversations over the next couple of years to ensure we put together something that’s fair and everyone is happy with.
“I’m in no way commenting on what’s happening in Cricket Australia, because I don’t know the ins and outs of it. But I’d be very surprised if anything other than a full-strength team turned out at the Gabba. I would have thought the Ashes will focus people’s minds to make sure they get a conclusion to where they are at the moment.
“Then I’d like to think we can have some sort of mature conversations with TEPP [The Team England Player Partnership; the branch of the PCA that negotiates on behalf of England players] and the players themselves early enough to prevent us going down that sort of route. And as much as possible, behind closed doors and in the right sort of spirit.
“What I’m focused on is making sure the relationships between ourselves as the national governing body and our players who are contracted to us are as good as they possibly can be. That’s the best way of ensuring that those conversations happen in good faith.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo