For perhaps the first time in our existence, we’re about to disagree with Michael Atherton. In The Times last week, as the idea of resting one (or both) of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was being mooted, he wrote a piece claiming that to do so would devalue a Test cap. His argument was a simple one; a Test cap is something to be earned through vast amounts of hard work, and should not be just handed out to give someone else a go. It is an argument not without its merits. We, though, don’t go along with it at all. From what we’ve read over the past couple of days most people, broadly speaking, agree with the idea of resting one of England’s main fast bowlers. The problem is that then they seem to disagree over how much they agree and why they agree and it all starts to get very complicated.
England have a series against South Africa, a World Cup and a full tour of India to come in the second half of the year. Already in the first six months of 2012 they have played a lot of cricket in tough conditions away from home, before going straight into a full summer without much of a break. The side remained virtually the same in the UAE, Sri Lanka and then here against West Indies. In that time alone Stuart Broad has missed a Test and about a month of cricket through injury, Tim Bresnan was absent for most of the Pakistan series and Chris Tremlett broke down in Dubai. It’s worth remembering too that Jimmy Anderson picked up an injury and missed a couple of Tests against Sri Lanka at about this time last year.
Once the Oval Test against South Africa comes around on July 17th, England’s attack will have very little rest time between then and the end of the year. Looking even further ahead, in early 2013 they go to New Zealand, play host to the same opponents and then go straight into back to back Ashes series’. They play 22 Test matches in the next 18 months. This may be the only opportunity they get to give their fast bowlers any considerable time off – particularly Broad, who is their best all round bowler in all forms of the game. With that in mind, and using this as an injury prevention tactic, not resting them in Birmingham could be seen as a significant failure on the part of the management team. Imagine the furore if Anderson and Broad played the entire summer, ran themselves into the ground and got injured in India later this year.
As well as being a way of keeping the risk of injury to their most vital players to a minimum, leaving Anderson (and Broad, potentially) out at Edgbaston gives them the chance to see whether Steven Finn (and/or Graeme Onions) is good enough as a genuine alternative to those in possession at the moment. Seeing if a player is ready for Test match cricket is surely not ‘devaluing the cap’. Is it not exactly what the selectors have done with Jonny Bairstow? When England were getting through 25 players in the course of a series was that not devaluing the honour far more than resting one or two players for one Test match? If there were no international standard options waiting in the wings they would not be going down this route. The point is that top level sport is very much a squad game. The best teams have the best (and biggest) squads and utilise those to great effect.
England usually take 16 players on overseas tours and select 13 for each home Test. To suggest that picking one member of that squad in place of another is devaluing the cap is frankly a little bizarre. The only change to the names called up for Edgbaston has been the absence of Anderson, the other 12 remain the same as at Trent Bridge. It is not as if they have plucked someone from the village green to make up the numbers, whoever they choose is going to be someone with previous experience at the highest level and who has been in and around the squad for a number of years. We must get away from the idea that managing players’ workloads and making use of the options available is somehow morally corrupt. This is a golden age of fast bowlers in this country, take advantage of that fact.