T20 franchise commitments leave England short-stocked for ODI tour of Bangladesh
Hales, Billings, Dawson, Vince among players to honour PSL contracts over England chances
England will test the depth of their white-ball reserves as they prepare to announce a depleted squad for their of Bangladesh in March this week.
A combination of scheduling conflicts, injuries and franchise commitments will likely see limited-overs coach Matthew Mott and captain Jos Buttler lead a mixed squad of established players, fringe talent and new faces. The three ODIs and three T20Is in Bangladesh were originally due to take place in October 2021 prior to that year's T20 World Cup in the UAE, before the ECB and BCB agreed on a postponement.
On Monday The Telegraph reported that Alex Hales, who returned to the national team for 2022's T20 World Cup, has opted to forgo the tour having committed to a more lucrative deal with Pakistan Super League franchise Islamabad United starting from February 26. It has since been understood that Sam Billings, Liam Dawson and James Vince, three players who have been in and around both white-ball teams for several years, are also expected to follow suit. ESPNcricinfo also understands that Richard Gleeson and Tymal Mills are considering their availability for the T20I leg of the tour. The PSL is due to run from February 13 to March 19, and Hales had already indicated to his franchise that he would be taking time off before the competition once the ILT20 had come to an end.
The first ODI against Bangladesh is on March 1, meaning those players who are part of the Test tour of New Zealand will not be available, with the second Test due to finish on February 28 in Wellington. That rules out Harry Brook, Ben Duckett, Olly Stone (all currently involved in the ODIs in South Africa) and Joe Root. Will Jacks, yet to be capped in the 50-over format but seen as an opening option going forward, is also on the Test tour. He was not picked for the ongoing South Africa ODI series, having been permitted to play a full part in the concurrent SA20, and he will be moving onto the PSL after the New Zealand tour, having been picked up as a replacement player by Quetta Gladiators.
Along with the absences of Jonny Bairstow and Liam Livingstone through injury, it is likely some of those on the Lions tour of Sri Lanka will be drafted in. Fast bowler Mark Wood, currently resting after the Test tour of Pakistan, is due to return for Bangladesh.
While players choosing franchise cricket over the national team will raise alarm bells, the ECB hierarchy are understood to be settled on the matter, having anticipated that such issues would arise during this period of the winter. Director of men's cricket Rob Key and performance director Mo Bobat have been keen to work in tandem with T20 leagues, appreciating the benefits that the players obtain from exposure to high-level cricket in overseas conditions. This attitude is exemplified by Jofra Archer, who made a first return to competitive cricket since July 2021 when he turned out for MI Cape Town in the SA20 earlier this year. In turn, he made his first England appearance in 687 days in last week's first ODI against South Africa.
There has also been a recognition that asking players to forgo franchise opportunities is tricky, particularly for those without central contracts, such as Hales, Billings, Vince and Dawson. The ECB want to avoid the worst-case scenario of forcing a player to choose between clubs and country, and as such are keen to have open dialogue whenever such issues are on the horizon. Such an approach has become all the more necessary given the sheer number of England players taking their short-form trades around the world, with over 60 representatives across the Big Bash League, SA20 and ILT20 in the last month alone.
Discussions with those who have opted out of the Bangladesh tour are understood to have been upfront and honest, even empathetic, with the decisions left to the players. More potential selections could yet take a similar option.
Ultimately, the situation leaves England at a disadvantage as they aim to fine-tune their preparations ahead of defending their 50-over World Cup in India later this year. Having lost the first two ODIs in South Africa, Wednesday's final match of the series was the first of 11 remaining matches ahead of the tournament. With three of those now due to take place with a heavily diluted group, the opportunities for England to rediscover their balance in the format has been diminished.
The final squad is likely to have a similar look to the one that toured Pakistan for seven-T20 matches last October, which featured five uncapped players. Luke Wright, who officially begins his role as national selector in March, but has his own experience of balancing priorities on the franchise circuit, is understood to have been involved in the discussions.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo