Separation. A word more relevant now than ever. We all feel it, the uncomfortable loneliness, wanting to see, be together. Coronavirus has changed lives in many ways, and certain changes are likely to stay. Increased working from home, more restaurants offering takeaways. Changes in the cricketing world are more likely to be knock-on effects. Schedules will alter, revenues will have to be replaced. However, the ECB could make a lasting change of the separate squads between formats.
With plans still in place for England to host Australia for a limited overs series this summer, and six tests to be played, and given the long process behind ensuring a biosecure bubble, separate squads are inevitable. It was no surprise then, when back on May 14th, England's men's director of cricket Ashely Giles confirmed that separate squads were expected to be used in this international summer. While this means tough decisions will have to be made in regard to multi-format players, will it last beyond lockdown?
The advantage of separate squads are key to the modern game. With tightly packed schedules, lots of high quality domestic tournaments and the demands of different formats rapidly shifting, separate squads are useful for international sides. Players tour less, have defined roles and have greater access to tournaments to develop their skills. If, for instance, Jofra Archer was told he wouldn't be picked for England in limited overs, he would have no need to play the IPL, and could spend April and May honing red ball skills in the county game. However, this example shows the obvious weakness of this policy. Archer is one of the best death bowlers in the world, and yet has massive test potential, seen throughout last year's Ashes. Archer needs rest, but England need him in all formats.
This is not to say that separate squads are unlikely. Given the vastly different skills and attitudes toward t20 and test cricket, differentiation is soon to happen. Players like Tymal Mills play only t20, and are renowned for death bowling skills that have minimal use in test cricket. Others, such as Shane Watson are t20 mercenaries, playing in global t20 leagues only. The skills of death bowling, power hitting and leg spin are very different from the defensive technique and consistent line and length of the longer format. While both skill sets are impressive, crossover is difficult. Furthermore, given the data-driven selection and coaching in t20, with analysts like Freddie Wilde and CricViz being used by t20 teams, making t20 seem a futuristic game compared to tests. Although the start of the last decade saw numerous multi-format stars like Kevin Pietersen, MS Dhoni and Michael Clarke in all teams, future demands mean Stokesian players will soon become the exception, not the norm.
England should split the squads and try to play some of the revolutionary cricket spoken of in Wilde and Tim Wigmore's Cricket 2.0, aiming to dominate t20 for a generation. This will make players such as Joe Root, despite his talents, obsolete in t20, as specialists take his place. However, England are unlikely to separate after coronavirus, given the amount of players such as Archer, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, who England see as all format. While obvious that players such as Rory Burns and James Anderson are test specialists, and the likes of David Willey and Jason Roy are limited overs only, England have too many players who could play across formats, and are unlikely to risk a new look t20 team to fit the game of a few years time. Although squad separation and further specialisation may not be a permanent change of the immediate post-Covid-19 landscape, it will be a hallmark of future cricket. Whether England try and get ahead of the curve is their decision. And, for fun, my split England squads are below; a team of 11 with six subs: