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June 5, 2012
It was telling that, not for the first time in this series, it was a man who was conspicuous by his absence who dominated the pre-Test discussion at Edgbaston. Speaking about England's decision to rest James Anderson from the final Test against West Indies, Andy Flower defended the rotation policy, saying that the demanding fixture list meant it would be "crazy and naive" to think England could utilise just three fast bowlers - Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan - over the next couple of years.
The move has provoked a varied response. While some have understood that it is simply a sign of the times and more a reflection of England's hectic schedule than any slight on Anderson or the ticket-buying public of Birmingham, others have reacted as if it were an early sign of the breakdown of law, order and civilization. For example, Ian Botham, the former England allrounder and captain, wrote in his Mirror column that the decision was "complete madness" and "an insult to the English public who pay their money to go and watch the best players in the land represent them on the field".
Either way, it is a measure of the sensitivity of the subject that Flower, the England coach, took it upon himself to come and speak to a section of the media and provide an in-depth explanation of the rationale behind the decision. Flower, while at pains not to be seen to criticise officials at the ECB who have agreed the playing schedule, called the itinerary "incredibly heavy". He also reminded supporters that rotation was not a new thing - Andrew Strauss, the captain, was rested from a tour of Bangladesh in 2010 - and, while Flower declined to answer any questions about Kevin Pietersen, he did admit that the prospect of players choosing to specialise was an "ongoing issue with the schedules that we're being asked to undertake".
"We came into this series with one goal and that was to win the series," Flower said. "We've achieved that goal so our priorities do shift. I'm not intending to demean the importance of this Test but, since we won the series already, our priority on the Test front does now shift to the South Africa series. There is also a slight shift to the West Indies one-day series because that series stands at 0-0. We haven't won that series, we've won this one. Part of our decision making is based around those reasons.
"If it had been 1-1 going into this third Test, Jimmy would have played. He is not badly injured and he could play this Test if we wanted him to. But it's 2-0 and we've won the series already.
"The second point I would make is that the days of us playing our players until they are either worn down significantly, or snap physically or mentally, are over. We think it our responsibility to manage things better than that. It is our duty to make decisions in their interests and the interests of the team. In the past we tended to play the fast bowlers until they were either bowling so poorly we had to leave them out, or they break down. And that doesn't make sense to us.
"Would you enter your prize horse in every race through the year? You wouldn't. You would target the races you want to win. We've won this race already. Would you play your most valuable pitcher in every single game in a baseball season? No you wouldn't. In fact, you don't even see them play full games. You pull them out of games because physically it makes sense to do so. Eventually their shoulder or their elbow would go. Does Wayne Rooney play every game for Manchester United? No, he doesn't because he would break down if he tried to do so. The schedule is really busy, and that's why we have to make these decisions. It would be ridiculous if we expected our fast bowlers to play in every single game.
"These types of decisions are made for the good of the team but also they will extend the careers of bowlers like Anderson. Actually I think it's beneficial to him. I understand the reasons why he is disappointed but it is beneficial to him in the long run.
"My third point is we have to try to and grow our pool of fast bowlers that are available to the England side. You would have seen through the Ashes in Australia that it wasn't the same attack that was used throughout that series. When we left Steven Finn out and when Stuart Broad was injured, the guys who came in excelled. Over the next couple of years the schedule is incredibly heavy. It is not only going to be Anderson, Broad and Bresnan who are going to be our bowlers over the next couple of years. It would be crazy and naive to think so. We are going to use other fast bowlers. It is part of growing our pool of fast bowlers.
"My fourth point is the possible replacement or replacements we use in this Test match are fine bowlers in their own right who have already performed very successfully in Test matches in England. I don't see it as devaluing this Test, I see it as a really exciting opportunity for us and for those watching the game. We are making this decision in the best interests of English cricket. We are not trying to overcomplicate, or devalue the game in any way. I perfectly understand why James Anderson is disappointed to be left out and I would be surprised if he felt any different. He is hungry to play. That's okay.
"He will be using this time to get his body in as good order as possible. He is carrying a couple of niggles and this is a chance to get rid of them. If it was 1-1 he would be playing, but it's not. We make decisions that make us stronger in the medium to long-term. Those are the reasons why we've made those decisions. Some people will disagree with them and that's fair enough. But I hope you can understand the logic behind those decisions."
Flower admitted that Broad may also be left out of the final XI "for similar reasons" and dismissed the idea that either he or Anderson would be selected with a view to improving their Test statistics. "We don't select people to get their Test tally up," Flower said. "We make decisions in the best interests of English cricket."
It was also noticeable that, in Anderson's absence, England spent some time in fielding drills with prospective new members of the slip cordon. Jonathan Trott, Steven Finn, Jonny Bairstow and Alastair Cook were among those who are not always in the cordon to be put through their paces.
Anderson's absence is unlikely to have much effect on last-minute ticket sales at Edgbaston. The weather forecast - grim, as ever this summer, it seems - may prove more relevant, though relatively high ticket prices will not have helped. Warwickshire, in their defence, would point out that various group discounts and 'kids for a quid' schemes were available.
They may also point out that ticket sales as not as poor as has been suggested in some quarters. As of Tuesday, Edgbaston had pre-sold 52,300 tickets for the Test. While fourth-day sales are poor - around 4,000 - the first three days are respectable (16,500, 14,800 and 17,000 respectively). Indeed, some grounds outside London would need to turn people away with those figures.
It is an important game for Warwickshire. Having invested heavily in redeveloping their stadium to an excellent standard - something they were encouraged to do by the ECB - they then missed out in the distribution deal and will not host an Ashes Test in 2013 or an India Test in 2014. While they will host some attractive limited-overs games - not least the final of the ICC Champions Trophy - they do not host another Test after this until 2015. With hefty loans to repay, they need to maximise revenues from this Test.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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