England news June 26, 2014

England prescribe rest to jaded squad

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Prior encouraged by England debutants

England have decided that rest will be the best cure for the team that slipped to their first series defeat on home soil against Sri Lanka. 10 of the 11 that played in the series are to miss the next round of County Championship games starting on Sunday, as well as NatWest T20 Blast games that precede them.

There is an irony in the only exception to the decision. Moeen Ali, who batted throughout the final day to take England within two balls of saving the Test and the series, will play in Worcestershire's Championship match against Glamorgan. While there will be few concerns about his batting, the England selectors will be keen to see him gain some more bowling time with the red ball after Moeen admitted in Leeds that he felt more confident delivering his doosra with the white ball.

Chris Woakes, who was also in the England squad for the Sri Lanka series but did not play, is free to play both in Warwickshire's T20 and Championship side.

All those not involved in matches will attend a two-day training camp in Loughborough, with the England squad for the first Test of the Investec series against India to be named in the middle of the week.

While the decision to rest the seam bowlers, in particular, is not a surprise, the decision to rest wicketkeeper Matt Prior is more perplexing. Prior endured a poor game with the gloves at Headingley and, having struggled with injury in the early stages of the season, had only kept in one first-class game before the Test series. As well as dropping a couple of chances, Prior also conceded 31 byes in the two-Test series.

England's inconsistent performance against Sri Lanka might have convinced the team management that the players required more time in the middle. But, perhaps with one eye to the future schedule - the entire five-Test series against India takes place in a six-week window - it has instead been concluded that rest may be of more benefit.

It was alarming to note how jaded some England players appeared towards the end of the second Test. James Anderson, despite an otherwise exemplary series, experienced one of his worst days in several years on the fourth day at Headingley, while Stuart Broad has a long-standing knee problem that limited him to two first-class games ahead of the series and appeared to be hampering him at times during it. Chris Jordan, so impressive in the limited-overs series and in early-season for Sussex, also appeared to have lost just a bit of nip.

It was also noticeable that those men - Joe Root and Prior, in particular - exposed to the pace and hostility of Mitchell Johnson in Australia seemed least able to cope with the pace of the Sri Lankan seamer Dhammika Prasad. England's problems may well stem more from feeling mentally jaded than physically.

Indeed, in years to come, the burn out of Jonathan Trott, the premature retirement of Graeme Swann, even the struggles of Alastair Cook and Steven Finn, may be seen as a reflection of a schedule that simply asks too much - physically but most of all mentally - of the best players. Nearly 300 days a year in hotels and, just as importantly, in the somewhat intense England environment, does little to retain the joy and freshness that is required to excel at the top level in sport.

Perhaps it is more surprising that the players have been withdrawn from Friday night's T20 programme. Not only might the relative freedom of a white-ball innings have freed up the likes of Cook to recover some form but, only a few weeks ago, the ECB re-launched the competition with assurances that England players would be made available more often. Even with the county game fighting for relevance and financial viability, it seems it will receive little help from the England camp.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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