The decisions of Adil Rashid and Alex Hales, the England one-day and T20 internationals, garnered a lot of coverage recently as they opted to eschew red ball cricket in order to focus on the white ball formats. It has been portrayed by some as a damaging message about the future of Test cricket. But is this actually the case?
Both have played Test cricket, although neither has recently. There have been question marks over the attitude of both, too, with neither excelling in the unrelenting environment of Test cricket.
Rashid, who last played Test cricket in 2016, drew the ire of his County, Yorkshire, at the end of the 2016 County Championship by refusing to participate in their title deciding final game of the season at Lord’s, against Middlesex, opting instead to rest ahead of England’s winter tours of Bangladesh and India. It was a game which Yorkshire lost, meaning that Middlesex claimed the title with a dramatic Toby Roland-Jones hattrick at the end.
Then Yorkshire coach, Jason Gillespie commented publicly about his frustration at the decision of a player who he clearly thought could be instrumental to Yorkshire’s effort to win the Championship.
There were also rumours abounding that Rashid had refused to make his Test debut against Australia at Lord’s in 2015. Such conjecture does not point towards a player cut out for Test cricket.
Hales, too, has had his problems. His 11 Test career as a flawed opener started poorly and only regressed. His Test career reached a nadir when he was given out by the television umpire at the Oval against Pakistan in 2016 and reacted by storming into the umpire’s room to remonstrate with the official. He was fined for his behaviour.
Of course, Hales was also heavily involved in the Ben Stokes incident in Bristol in the summer of 2017. The hangover from that event continues to affect the England team, with the case yet to be resolved. There were rumours about Hales’s own conduct on that evening, too, which paint a picture of an unreliable character.
So, will England’s Test team, which isn’t in a great place at the moment, miss these two? In short, no. Rashid wasn’t called up for the Ashes, the second spinner‘s spot going instead to Mason Crane, the largely untested Hampshire legspinner who made his debut in the fifth and final Test in Sydney. Rashid was a way down the pecking order. Despite England’s batting fragility, too, Hales wasn’t in contention for an Ashes spot, either.
Rashid played 10 Tests and took 38 wickets at 42.78, despite playing all of these games in the spin friendly conditions of the subcontinent.
Hales played 11 Tests and scored 573 runs at 27.28.
For their fragility in the Test arena, however, both Rashid (59 games) and Hales (58 games) are important components of England’s ODI operation. Their performances in the format are vastly superior to those in the Test arena.
Given that England are hosting the 2019 World Cup and, according to their coach, Trevor Bayliss and the latest cricket odds, are favourites to win the tournament, is the decision of the pair to focus on this format such a bad thing?
Not really. They have little to offer Test cricket, but a lot to offer ODI cricket.
There is a lingering snobbery around English cricket that ‘proper‘ players play Test cricket. It’s why so many pundits remain desperate to see Jos Buttler play Test cricket, despite glaring evidence that he’s not much good at it. There was no such lamenting, for example, when Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and James Anderson were exiled from England‘s ODI side. This is a one-way street.
Of course, the actions of Rashid and Hales, in turning their backs on red ball cricket, are bad news for County Cricket. Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire have lost good players at domestic level in these moves. But their actions will only really represent a problem for Test cricket if they are copied by leading lights from the Test arena, such as Joe Root and Ben Stokes.
But we need a bit of perspective here. Rashid and Hales had virtually no future in Test cricket and the format won’t miss them. They have an opportunity, however, to win a World Cup next year. I for one will be cheering to the rafters if that happens and if this makes that more likely, good luck to them!
By Miles Reucroft