Joe Root, England’s Test captain, has said he blames the system, not the individuals, for the growing trend towards specialisation that has tempted the likes of Alex Hales and Adil Rashid to accept white-ball-only county contracts.
But, Root added, there could still be a future for such players to help reinvigorate the fortunes of England’s Test team, so long as the game’s authorities can find a way to restructure the international schedule to enable all three formats to co-exist more easily.
Hales and Rashid both confirmed earlier this month that they would not be turning out for Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire respectively in this year’s County Championship, effectively putting their Test careers on indefinite hold. Rashid, who was overlooked for the Ashes squad despite being England’s leading wicket-taker in India and Bangladesh last winter, admitted this week that he had lost the “buzz” for playing red-ball cricket.
However, Root – who has himself had to sit out of England’s T20 side in recent months in a bid to balance his own priorities in Test and 50-over cricket – believes that the current trends in international cricket suggest that players who stand out in the shorter formats should not be discounted from making an impact in the five-day game.
“Players like Alex and Rash, who get pigeon-holed as white-ball specialists, I think there’s a future for them in Test cricket,” Root told Sky Sports. “You look at how the game has changed in the last five years – with scoring rates and the things you now need to do with the ball – the skills you have to have, a lot of them have come from white-ball cricket.
“That cross-over, I think, can be there if guys have the attitude and determination to play Test cricket. There’s no reason, if you are suited to the white ball, you can’t tailor yourself into a red-ball cricketer. It’s just about having that want and drive, and to have enough opportunity to play red-ball cricket in the county system and around the world for that to develop.”
At present, however, there is very little opportunity for any elite cricketer to excel in all three formats concurrently, with India’s Virat Kohli perhaps the exception that proves the rule. Australia’s Steve Smith, for instance, joined Root in missing the recent T20 tri-series in the wake of a busy winter in which his Test form invited comparison to the great Donald Bradman. He now faces a struggle to regain his place among a team of specialists who took that competition by storm.
“It’s very difficult to stop guys doing it,” Root said of the temptation to specialise in white-ball cricket. “You can’t place blame on individuals, there’s an issue higher up than that, and I think schedules will have to be tampered [with] and changed slightly.
“If you’re playing all three formats, somewhere down the line you’re going to have to miss some cricket. Personally, mine’s been in T20 series – I’m obviously not going to miss any Test cricket now and, with a 50-over World Cup next year, there’s a big focus on playing that.
“So it can feel like a long time until you play that next format, and guys want to be playing everything as much as possible. Maybe there is something that needs to be looked at there. Give guys a chance to play all three formats and not have to make that decision.”
As for the long-term viability of Test cricket, Root remained optimistic about its future – even if Eoin Morgan, England’s white-ball captain, believes that the time to save the format may already have been and gone.
“I really hope [it will still be played], it’s called Test cricket for a reason,” said Root. “It challenges you, you find yourself in every scenario you can do in cricket. It would be a real shame if it was not there.
“I think the challenge is to make sure you keep it current, and make sure people want to turn on the telly, come to grounds, and watch it. Day-night Tests are great ideas, not necessarily in England but around the world, because you’ve seen the impact it’s had. If we can find ways to keep people interested and excited, we need to do it.”