Ashley Giles, the ECB’s managing director for men’s cricket, has questioned whether England’s multi-format players have had the necessary time to “get over” their gruelling summer schedule.
England have played more days of international cricket than any other team since the start of May, with the World Cup and the home Ashes series quickly followed by a tour of New Zealand. Members of the Test squad were only afforded around 10 days at home after that tour before flying to South Africa, while several players came into the busy summer on the back of an IPL season that was immediately preceded by a tour of the Caribbean.
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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Giles claimed that there has never been a “more pressurised time” to be an international cricketer.
“I think the game is stressful full stop, for a lot of our guys,” Giles said. “Looking back at this summer, I really don’t know whether a lot of our guys have had time to get over it. You look at what they went through almost within three weeks of finishing the season, many of them were off to New Zealand, and then we’re off on this next year which is just crazy in terms of schedules.
“We have a psych[ologist] on board all the time, we have a mini committee within the team who keep wellbeing, player wellbeing as a top priority on the agenda. It’s a really important issue for us, and player workloads are going to be really important, not just over the next 12 months but… looking right down the track.
“I don’t remember a more pressured time in cricket in terms of both looking after your people and the pressure on winning at the same time.”
Several England players said in the aftermath of the World Cup win that they had struggled to cope with the realisation that they had achieved what they had spent four years working towards.
Liam Plunkett said that he felt “quite down” while sat on his sofa watching TV after the final, while Jos Buttler admitted it took time to “accept your emotions”. In his recent book, Ben Stokes – who, like Buttler, was rested for the Ireland Test between the World Cup and the Ashes – said “my head certainly wasn’t in the right place” to play in that game, and that he “couldn’t have faced five days of Test cricket”.
None of England’s players has played all of their 31 international games since the beginning of May, with Joe Root (26), Jonny Bairstow (25) and Stokes (23) leading the way.
Moeen Ali, who will miss the upcoming Test series against South Africa, is another who has admitted that the pressure of the international environment had begun to weigh him down. He told the Guardian last week that the rigour of international cricket had become “a bit draining” and that time out of the firing line would allow him to “freshen up”.
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“I think he’s been through what I would describe as a difficult period,” said Giles, who met the allrounder on Monday to discuss his plans for the rest of the winter. “When you’re on the road all the time, playing all forms [of the game], it’s pretty stressful… I don’t think he’d mind me saying his confidence was knocked in that first [Ashes] Test match.
No time frame has been set for Moeen Ali’s return to Test cricket Getty Images
“I think we need to work with him, and as much as us picking him, he needs to make sure he’s ready to come back in[to] that environment. There is no doubt that we want Moeen back at some point. He’s shown his abilities at Test level as well as one-day level, but sometimes you just need to take a little break from the game.
“Part of that is being able to take time out and work on your cricket, but also perhaps rediscovering your love for the game, so we have to make sure we look after them.”
Giles also admitted that England would think twice before calling up Moeen in the event of a spinner going down injured in their series in South Africa, which begins on Boxing Day at Centurion.
“We could have an injury in South Africa, and we could say ‘Mo, would you? Can you?” [but] we have to be careful with that. As much as we want him back in that environment, he has to be ready to come back as well.
“We wouldn’t want to put someone back in that spotlight if they didn’t feel they were ready, and that fundamentally means he has to be happy that his game is ready to go back and compete at Test level.”