England’s national selector Ed Smith has said it is “crucial” to prioritise players’ wellbeing, and suggested that “rest and rotation will be a central part” of his selection process going forward as cricket catches up with other sports.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Smith said that the senior players rested for the T20 tour of New Zealand – including Jason Roy, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes – were told, rather than asked, to rest after a draining home summer.
“With the T20s in New Zealand, it wasn’t a case of, ‘What do you think about resting?’ It was, ‘You’re rested.’ It’s crucial we attend to players’ wellbeing,” Smith said. “We’re fortunate that Eoin Morgan, having won the World Cup, saw an opportunity to look at new challenges and that we have a lot of depth in white-ball cricket.
“I work closely with people who are intimately involved with the pastoral care of the England team. They respect confidences, however there are times when people have said that this person might benefit from a break. Moving forward, rest and rotation will be a central part of good selection. Players must be well mentally and physically, and capable of performing at their best when we need them to.”
Smith, who became England’s national selector in April 2018, used the example of the Rugby World Cup to show that other sports were ahead of cricket in their attitude towards resting players. England coach Eddie Jones used fly-half George Ford off the bench rather than starting in his team’s quarter-final win against Australia, and in his press conference after the game said that he had “changed his role” rather than dropping him. “Come into modern rugby – join us,” Jones said. “Rugby has changed, it’s a 23-man game.”
“Baseball got there in 1880, football in 1990, rugby in the 2010s, and cricket’s moving in that direction,” Smith said. “You have a strong core based around a strong leader, but there’s got to be room for people taking time out when they need a physical and mental – or technical – recharge. Then there’s always a way back.”
Perhaps Smith’s most high-profile recent selection decision was to drop Jonny Bairstow from England’s Test squad for their tour of New Zealand, but he suggested that the wicketkeeper/batsman will be back in contention very soon.
“I remember sitting with Jonny when he’d missed a game in Sri Lanka [in last year’s Test series] and I said, ‘it won’t be long, not because I’m predicting somebody will get dropped but because you’re a very good player and very good players come back’. A week later he was raising his bat having scored a Test hundred.
“That will be one way selectors can really contribute to successful teams — thinking about the person and having a strong sense of care, supporting them emotionally and psychologically, so if a crunch point is coming you manage it the best way.
“He’s a key player who has played well in all formats. Jonny was selected in 2012 as an outstanding young batsman and since then his first-class average outside Tests is 57. That’s how good he is and Jonny at his best would be a huge asset.”
Smith also revealed that he will give new head coach Chris Silverwood the final say regarding England’s final XI. Smith’s official role is to pick the squad from which the coach and captain pick the team, but he admitted he has “been involved in discussions around final XIs on tour”.
“Chris [Silverwood] is very organised and likes to have a clear process that happens every time,” he said. “So we will have a call two days out before every Test match between me and Chris, or James [Taylor] and Chris.
“We’ll look at the options … if it’s these conditions that guy [plays], in those conditions that guy [plays]. Two days out you have that discussion, so everyone is in the loop. I’m very comfortable with that.
“If the question is who should have the final say on the final XI, it should be the captain and coach, because you’ve got to go with what you want. That’s as it should be.”
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