This is a slightly funny series coming up against New Zealand. England have a slim line squad of 15, down from the 55-man squads of the previous bio-secure bubbles, now known as ‘secure living environments’. In this squad are two potential debutants (James Bracey and Ollie Robinson), the welcome return of Haseeb Hameed, and no IPL players (Ali, Bairstow, Buttler, Curran, Woakes) because they are all at some sort of wrong point in the quarantine system.
Which is interesting in itself, now that the families of both men’s and women’s squads have been granted clearance to spend the summer in England instead of at home where the current VoC (that’s Variant of Concern for anyone not used to learning the new jargon every week) remains virulent. What the BCCI wants, the BCCI gets, I suppose.
Back to England’s squad: Ben Foakes was set to make his home debut, at last, after some very impressive work on the subcontinent in recent years but he managed to slip over in the Surrey dressing room and is now out for three months with a hamstring injury. Gutted can’t even begin to describe his feelings and I feel so, so sorry for the man. But of course, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer are also injured, so Chris Silverwood can’t face too many claims of a weak rotational policy.
That said, a weak rotational policy would have been almost justified anyway, because this series is not part of the World Test Championship and wasn’t ever in the future tours programme. It’s just been slotted in because the ECB ‘owes’ Sky one after cricket got cancelled last early-summer. On that basis alone, with no disrespect to New Zealand, I would be tempted to play an entire reserve team just to shove it to Sky and their ‘friendly requests’ for more cricket.
Sky’s coverage is brilliant; don’t think I’m questioning that. It’s more the fact that Sky has rinsed the sports fans of this country dry for decades, has failed to keep up with innovations and found itself swamped by competitors that it isn’t actually able to compete with on a cost-per-product basis.
New Zealand will use the series as a chance to warm up for the World Test Championship Final which starts on 21 June, played at the Ageas Bowl (and renowned for its Secure Living Environment). This means they’ll be in fighting spirit but presumably also playing slightly within themselves as they try to really acclimatise.
I have never been a fan of the WTC concept – and not just because Michael Vaughan loves it so much – but now that it’s here, where a series ‘doesn’t count’ it does just turn it into a ‘friendly’ doesn’t it? So this is basically a pre-season friendly two-Test series.
The weather is glorious, we are all looking forward to getting closer to normality, I am so excited that cricket is back and ever-optimistic that the toddler will leave me any chance to watch it. I wish all the debutants well and hope England learn plenty from the series, not least in terms of succession planning for the near to mid future. I’m just not sure this will quite have the magic spark and that’s a shame for every player involved, who all deserve much better.