Jonny Bairstow believes that the contract status of England's white-ball cricketers makes them fair game for lucrative deals on the T20 franchise circuit, after Moeen Ali capped a difficult week on the Test front with a huge pay-day at the IPL auction.
Moeen was picked up by Chennai Super Kings for INR 7 crore (US$959,000), only days after his Test captain, Joe Root, had inadvertently suggested he "chose" to skip the final two Tests of the India series rather than take a break that had been pre-arranged with the ECB.
And Bairstow, who joined Sunrisers Hyderabad on a INR 1.5 crore (US$200,000) deal in 2019, insisted that the sums of money available at the IPL were "very hard for anyone to turn down", but especially for players such as himself and Moeen, who play for England in all three forms of the game, but are contracted only for T20I and ODI matches.
"I think that's part and parcel of the game at the moment," Bairstow said, having rejoined the Test squad after missing the Chennai leg of the series. "You've got guys who are red-ball contracted or white-ball contracted, some guys who've got both contracts. For guys who are white-ball contracted, being able to go and play in the IPL is something you can't say 'don't go', because that's kind of the contract they've got in England."
Despite recent suggestions that the ECB is giving greater priority to limited-overs cricket than Tests, the value of an England red-ball contract is still some three times that of the white-ball version. Moeen was downgraded to a white-ball contract when he stepped away from Test cricket during the 2019 Ashes, and Bairstow likewise lost out last September after playing just one Test in the preceding 12 months.
Mark Wood, England's fastest bowler, is also on a white-ball contract despite having been a regular member of the Test squad for the past two years. But even though he played just one Test out of six during England's bio-secure home series against West Indies and Pakistan last summer, Wood's time away from home persuaded him to withdraw from the IPL on the eve of the auction rather than seek a well-paid deal in return for a further two months on the road.
"We are fortunate to be playing all three formats but Mark, Moeen and I haven't got a red-ball contract," Bairstow said, adding that the finer details of such negotiations were "above my station". However, as one of the foremost T20I batsmen in the world, he pointed out that his recall by England for the Sri Lanka Tests had caused him to renege on a deal to play for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash - a stint that would have been his first in the competition.
"You have a career span and you want to make the most of the time that you have," Bairstow said. "I lost my red-ball contact last year so having the opportunity to play in the Big Bash arose and you are going to try and take it. At that point, I didn't know it was in the plans to be recalled for Sri Lanka. But I wanted to play Test cricket and that's why those plans got put on hold and I went to Sri Lanka.
"There are lots of different things for people to juggle within cricketing careers currently, absolutely. But that is the nature of the sport at the moment. There is a reason why I went to Sri Lanka, there's a reason why I am here in India. That is to hopefully do well and play Test cricket for England. By doing well, you get rewarded by earning your contract back. So yeah, it is tricky.
"We are fortunate to be playing cricket for a living but, naturally, you want to be doing it and being paid what other people [get] - that is above my station. I don't need to get into that, I need to concentrate on going out and scoring runs and let other people take care of those issues."
Bairstow is likely to reclaim his No. 3 berth for the third Test in Ahmedabad, having performed creditably in the role in Sri Lanka without producing a significant score. He made 139 runs and a highest score of 47 in four innings, but also produced a matchwinning 35 not out in the first Test, after steadying England's run-chase following a top-order wobble.
"I was happy with how I played in Sri Lanka, after a while out of playing red-ball cricket," Bairstow said. "I didn't necessarily get a huge score, but to be there at the end of the game in the first Test was really important to me. The pitches over there weren't exactly the easiest, so to bat at three where I haven't batted a huge amount, and contribute to the partnerships that I did [was pleasing]."
It was less pleasing for Bairstow, however, to then have to relinquish his place so soon after reclaiming it, and while he accepts and welcomes the ECB's commitment to rest and rotation given the strictures of England's bubble lifestyle, he admitted there had been some mixed emotions as he boarded his flight home, with Dan Lawrence ultimately being handed the chance to stake a claim for the No.3 spot.
"Well, you don't want to be leaving, do you?" he said. "That's the nature of sport. You do want to play, but at the same time I'm fortunate enough to be playing in three formats of the game, and being able to do that [you have to] perform at the best of your ability in all three formats.
"If you're doing that for 12 months a year, from August or September until Christmas, that's six nights at home before the Christmas break, then we went to Sri Lanka on January 2 and potentially you're not back until the end of May.
"Then you're into an English summer, which potentially is going to be in a bubble. There's 17 Test matches in 2021, plus the T20 World Cup and other international fixtures in the pipeline. So naturally, it's tricky. You don't want to leave because you are playing, but at the same time if you're physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, you may get injured. You may lose form, you may do a number of these things in different areas."
Ultimately, Bairstow said that England's results would justify the policies that the management are taking with their players, and so far, he believes their performances are proof that the balance of formats, however delicate, is being maintained.
"I don't believe there are priorities," he said. "If you look at our away record, we've won six out of our last seven Tests. The performance we've had in ODI and T20 cricket over the last 12-24 months don't come by prioritising one format over another. All three formats for England have been producing results.
"If the guys are going to the IPL and improving their skills, that doesn't mean it's just T20 skills, it's improving their skills for ODI cricket, for Test cricket as well. Playing alongside some of the best players in the world, not to mention in conditions similar to ones we are playing in currently... especially with a T20 WC coming up. It covers all three formats."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket