England to prioritise red-ball cricket after World Cup focus - Giles
Test side has "suffered a bit" due to white-ball emphasis, admits Giles, and red-ball stars might be afforded fewer IPL opportunities
English cricket will "redress the balance" between red and white-ball cricket over the next few years.
Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men's cricket, accepts that white-ball cricket took priority in the previous four-year cycle and he accepts the strategy, put in place by his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, paid off. England went from also-rans at the 2015 World Cup to champions in 2019.
But he also accepts England's Test cricket may have "suffered a little bit." England are currently No. 4 in the ICC's Test rankings while they are No. 1 in the ODI and No. 2 in the T20I rankings. So, while he is keen to pay tribute to Strauss' influence, he feels that winning the World Test Championship - which is launched at the start of the Ashes series which starts on Thursday - should be the new goal of English cricket. And to that end, he feels the red-ball game should now be given greater priority in terms of planning, scheduling and investment.
"When Strauss came in he said we have to swing the balance right towards white-ball cricket and that's what we did," Giles said. "All the attention and the way we play county cricket was definitely focused on the shorter formats.
"It was the focus we needed. It was the strategy that led to us winning the World Cup which we looked miles away from doing in 2015. It was important that the pendulum didn't swing back to 50-50, it had to swing right back to white-ball cricket. We had never approached things in that way before in this country.
"Has Test cricket suffered a little bit? Well, perhaps a little bit. We need to do that in red-ball cricket now. Whether it's the World Test Championship or not, Test cricket is really important to us in this country. We haven't neglected Test cricket for white-ball cricket, but focus has definitely been more on that side and we just need to redress that balance now.
"In the future we need to work with the counties on producing future Test players. Our focus has certainly been on white-ball cricket and we need to redress that balance now to try and even things out."
Giles' task is not straightforward. The county schedule will continue to see white-ball cricket take precedence in peak season - there will be no County Championship cricket played in the white-ball window built for The Hundred and 50-over cricket from 2020 - which means domestic first-class cricket will continue to be played in the margins of the season when pitches tend to provide substantial assistance to seam bowlers.
But there some tools available to him. For a start, county cricket is already using a brand of Dukes ball with a less prominent seam that provides a little less help for bowlers. The counties have also been encouraged to provide better batting surfaces in the hope that seamers are required to work harder for their wickets and batsmen can gain some form and confidence in a more meritocratic environment. It is also hoped the combination of flatter wickets and less helpful balls will encourage the development of faster bowlers and spinners.
That prioritisation will also be demonstrated in the value of the new central contracts. While players in all formats will receive a substantial pay rise when the new contracts begin in October - those contracted for red and white-ball cricket will earn just under £1m a year before appearance fees - the percentage rise will be greater for those involved in Test cricket. Meanwhile young fast bowlers will be taken on to incremental contracts - a scheme that will replace the fast bowling programme - which will allow the England management to rest them, or place them in overseas cricket, as they see fit.
There may also be less leeway for Test players to take part in T20 leagues, including the IPL. While appearances in such leagues have helped England's player develop in the white-ball game - and while there is a World T20 Cup at the end of next year - Giles is keen to ensure candidates for the Test squad have both rested and reacclimatised to English conditions before returning to the Test team. He hopes the value of the new central contracts - which will see some England players earning between £1.2 and £1.5m a year when appearance fees are included - will diminish the allure of such leagues for his top assets.
Most of all, though, he wants the county game - and the ECB pathways - to deliver better results. That means creating an environment where top-order batsmen have a better chance to develop, where counties are rewarded for producing players and where the qualities required to succeed in Test cricket are replicated and cultivated.
"It's fundamentally important that our county cricket is system is producing good players," Giles continued. "And what we've seen this year is sides preparing better pitches to play on. As a result, scores have been better and there seems to be better cricket round the country; really competitive cricket. The stats would say that when we've had a deep and successful [Test] batting order, we've had a really strong County Championship with high scores, lots of runs and batsmen scoring 1,000 runs a season. We certainly need the network and county system to work with us.
"Even just saying 'we're going to win the World Cup' in 2015 placed a lot of emphasis on our focus in terms of how we grew players, grew talent and spotted talent. Now we do need to redress that, so placing more emphasis on how we support and improve our long-form cricketers. And some of that is about working with the counties and collaborating much more on growing a bigger pool of players to prepare to play Test cricket.
"But it not going to be an overnight change. We won't suddenly start producing dozens of top-order players. In the short term, the Test Championship has to be on our to-do list. It doesn't get much tougher but we have to have that as a goal. Test cricket's really important to us and we need to be trying to compete for that Championship and if not this one then the next one.
"In the shorter term we've got two T20 World Cups. Next year in Australia probably represents a really good opportunity for us to win that and wouldn't it be great if we could hold both white-ball trophies at once?
"Having our resources, we should be trying to compete across as many formats as we can. In the really short term you might swing some of your focus towards T20 cricket instead of 50-over cricket as we're four years away from another 50-over World Cup. But we need to give Test cricket the focus it deserves."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo