Squad rotation

With England winning the first two ODIs fairly effortlessly, the main talking point ahead of the third has been that like in the Tests England are resting important members of the squad for the dead rubber. In the Test series I was very much against this. Whilst it was a lovely opportunity for Finn and Onions, England were a clearly reduced side and would have had a tough time had the rain not ruined all. (I will note for the sake of fairness that the match was already all but gone when the decision was made to rest Broad.) I am not nearly as opposed in this case, however, and would actually rest players a bit more.

One of the main reasons to oppose rotation in Test matches is that there are no unimportant Tests. (There are other good reasons as well, but that is one of the main ones.) This is not the case in ODIs however and in fact I am rather sympathetic to the argument that there are no important ODIs. A Test is the highest form of the game and is remembered very differently to an ODI. The success or otherwise of a tour is marked by Test results; last summer there would have been a very real difference between whitewashing India and only winning 3-0 or 3-1. But England’s win in the subsequent ODI series made no difference and for me at least was forgot almost before it was over. This is partly due to the format itself and partly due to the World Cup stripping the bilateral series of meaning. (After all, what does it matter if you lose every bilateral series if you win the World Cup?) Every team should certainly do everything they can to win every Test, but it is much harder to say that of ODIs.

Another reason for resting ODI players is that there are so many more ODIs than Tests. (Which is it’s own problem, of course.) This summer England will play six Tests and 13 ODIs. Over the winter it will be a more reasonable seven Tests and ten ODIs, before having to play a Mickey Mouse tournament at home next summer in addition to the bilateral ODIs. Few if any of those matches will have any real meaning and I actually think it would be a very bad idea to try to play the same, or nearly the same, XI in all of them. There is no reason to risk the players getting an injury. If it is used periodically, ie: not just for dead rubbers, it seems like the most logical approach.

The main argument against resting players is that it does not seem fair on the playing public to get a reduced XI. This is a reasonable concern, I think. I am not advocating playing a second XI, however, nor do I think Flower and Cook ever would do so. To play a different seam attack or a few young batsmen is not a dramatic blow to England’s chances of winning, especially if the rotation is done consistently and constantly. The shorter format is random enough anyway that there is no reason to suspect that spectators would get a reduced performance. I also think that the spectators are smart enough to understand the logic of rotation and few if any would be going to see just one player. If even football fans can do this then I am sure cricket fans can.

6 thoughts on “Squad rotation

  1. Bandon, agreed. In the long term, (further) degradation of the bilateral ODI may lead to its demise. But then that may not be a bad thing. Flower pretty much played a second XI against Ireland last year, and Australia have sent some fairly weak teams out in the past few years. Not England’s test tour of NZ in 1930 weak, but missing some key players anyway.

    On tests I’d prefer to have substitutions than rotation, putting forward the case here. I’d be interested in your thoughts.


    1. [I can’t seem to comment over there, so I’m putting it here instead.] It’s an interesting thought and I think it is a good comparison with a baseball pitcher. I think in most cases though, a bowler will actually get a bit better conditioning. A fast bowler will seldom bowl more than 120 deliveries in a day and whilst they may bowl a little bit more over the course of a five day Test, it should be borne in mind that a pitcher will throw halfway between starts also. There is still a difference, but I’m not sure it’s a more notable one than, say, the difference in mechanics. (Pitchers put a lot of stress on the elbow, with Tommy John surgery probably the worst possible injury for a pitcher. I believe fast bowlers put much more stress on their knees.)

      The biggest point I would make though is that it seems a slight over-reaction to solve this problem with substitutes. Teams can already manage workload better if they so desire by simply playing another bowler. That they don’t is a gamble they choose to take. I also suspect that many players don’t get as much first class cricket as they should and are thus not adequately conditioned.

      I also, and I admit this is a subjective judgement, don’t like the notion of a tactical substitution in cricket (and the vast majority of them would be tactical, as we see in football). It works in quick sports like football, baseball and rugby where the field and weather conditions are not changing (if they were even relevant in the first place). But I think one of the skills required in cricket is to try to read the conditions and select a team that gives you the best chance to win over the full five days. Trying to find the right balance and judge how things are likely to play out is one of the intellectual aspects of cricket that gives it a special appeal over more ‘brute’ sports. Even if nothing else, I just don’t like the idea of a side bringing on a spinner just for the last innings.

      And that leads to my last consideration: I don’t think subs would work in the way you intend. They would be great in situations like at Lord’s last year where Zaheer Khan went down with a hamstring injury on day one, but in most cases I think they would just be used to bring on a spinner for the second innings. To use England as an example; I think the most likely use would be to start the match with Jimmy, Broad, Bresnan and Finn and then swap Finn out for Swann in the second innings. This is great for Finn, who then gets more playing time, but it does nothing to take the load off Jimmy and Broad. If anything it adds work because Finn won’t bowl as much as Swann would in the first innings. It does not have to be used this way, of course, but the DRS was not supposed to be used tactically either.


      1. Bandon, here is fine. I turn off comments on old pages to reduce spam.

        From what I can tell with regard to injuries from the research, they are much more likely if a player passes certain thresholds, and test cricket tends to put players in that position (20+ overs a day or two after another long spell; 50+ overs in a game). I’m not sure many teams would use substitutes even if they had them, at least at first, but it would be good to have that option. With regard to management, I know you are big on five bowlers, but I’ve always argued that the precise time you need five bowlers (>100 overs in the field) will also correspond to the time you need six batsmen (>400 run deficit). You might argue that is also the time you need your best bowlers, and there is a danger that teams will just add batsmen when facing deficits too.

        But, unlike you, I don’t have an issue with tactical substitutions in cricket. I quite like the idea that a loss might become a draw if the batting is strengthened (it is actually fairly unlikely but anyway…), or that spinners will be introduced in the latter innings. One of the problems (particularly in Australia) is that spinners who operate across both innings are often quite negative because of unfavourable conditions; so a spinner who attacks, or even a seamer who operates only on green wickets, adds to the game, in my opinion. The other advantage, I would think, is that test schedules could eb compressed, so a 3-test series might last 3 weeks, instead of 4.

        Again, many people would see that as a bad thing. This is one of those mileage may vary type of issues. Thanks for your thoughts.


  2. “England were a clearly reduced side and would have had a tough time had the rain not ruined all.”

    Lets no forget England had these guys 300-9 after some shocking fielding on day 1 and but for the 2 lifes England gave Barath and the 1 Tino was given they would of been all out for 320-330, remembering England were much much better in the field in the first 2 tests and WI had already posted 300+ twice in the series with Anderson & Broad playing – this 3rd test proved one that holding catches, taking run out are crucial and a bowler is only as good as his fielders on the day


    1. That’s certainly true and something which I could have made clearer. I don’t think it negates my statement that England were a reduced side, however, for two reasons. First: some of those dropped catches were down to our not having Jimmy in the slips and the subsequent reshuffle. Thus the reduction in that case was actually in the fielding, not the bowling. Second: I thought (and this is more subjective) I thought England lacked that edge they had with Jimmy and Stuart. It often seemed like there was not any direction to the attack in a manner that had not been the case in the first two Tests.

      If nothing else though, I would simply point to the match state. England were five down and still 70-odd short of an admittedly higher follow-on target. I don’t doubt we would have made it given the batting we still had, but it would not have been straightforward and even then we still had another 150 to a first innings lead. I think it would have been very tough.


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