Workloads and players need careful managing
There is a certain irony in England debating whether to rest one player within a week of telling another he cannot rest as much as he would like. While it would be disingenuous to draw too many similarities between the cases of James Anderson and Kevin Pietersen, their scenarios do highlight a dilemma that looks sure to become a greater problem over the next year or two: the onerous international schedule.
When England name their squad for the third Test at Edgbaston it seems likely that Anderson will be excluded. Stuart Broad may also be rested for the game.
While their status as England's two first-choice seamers remains unquestioned, the England management are keen not to over exert them in a series that is already won. They hope that by providing opportunities to the back-up seamers, Steven Finn and, perhaps, Graham Onions, they can not only keep Anderson and Broad for more important matches to come but provide some experience to the support bowlers should they be required to step up in the future.
There is logic in that. While some will decry a perceived degradation in the value of Test cricket - also, with some logic - it is an inevitable sign of the times. There is no way England - or several other international teams - can get through the next 18-months without squad rotation. Those members of the squad who hope to play in all three formats of the game, can expect to spend less than two weeks (from December 24 to January 2) in England between late October and April. Even before that, they face a trip to Sri Lanka for the World Twenty20. It is asking too much of the players and their wives. It is not sustainable.
Anyone doubting the absurdity of the current fixture programme need only look at the scheduling of the ODI against Scotland on August 12. It comes just six days after the second Test against South Africa at Headingley and four days before the third Test at Lord's. To make matters worse, it is also scheduled two days after a Lions fixture against Australia A in Manchester and two days before a Lions fixture against the same opposition in Birmingham. It is surely the person responsible for such scheduling who should be the one 'retiring' from the ECB.
There is no way England can sustain such a fixture schedule at the same time as any pretence about the sanctity of international cricket. Something had to give and if it is resting a leading player or two from a Test in a sealed series against an opposition struggling for equilibrium, then so be it. That Anderson is not happy speaks volumes for his excellent temperament: it is good that he wants to play. But, just as he bounced back after being omitted from England's side for the World T20 success in the Caribbean, so he will bounce back from this. He is not the one about which England should worry.
No, it is Pietersen's future that is causing the headaches. Given the schedule and the way in which the ECB are keen to look after Anderson, it is not hard to understand why Pietersen wanted more time to rest. He was requesting, after all, only what England imposed on him a year ago by 'resting' him from the ODI series against India. Had the England management - too heavy on the stick and too sparing with the carrot - handled this situation better, he might simply have missed a few games this summer and resumed normal service over the winter. He might have continued to play ODI and T20I cricket. Or he might just have retired from ODIs. But, bearing in mind that England have a different captain for each format of the game, the ECB's argument that the ODI and T20I squads are so closely linked that opting out of one limited-overs format should automatically rule a player out of the other, is fatally flawed.
Perhaps Pietersen does not cut a particularly sympathetic figure. His decision - a decision that he would have been insane not to take - to participate in the IPL rather than resting will always rile some and, perhaps more pertinently, it is apparent that he has never developed the reservoir of loyalty and affection within the England set-up that others - the likes of Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood - did, to see him through the lean times. He has been tolerated, not embraced, for some time.
But just because Pietersen is not wildly popular does not make him wrong. His needs are not so different from those of Anderson. Perhaps they are expressed differently, perhaps they are more personal, but they are not so different. Both are individuals who require careful handling and both could, with careful management, still have a huge role to play in the future of England's Test and limited-overs teams. If the ECB continue to push the players too hard, however, the cracks will become more apparent.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo