England are considering a training camp for their Test cricketers in the United Arab Emirates before Christmas in advance of the proposed series against Sri Lanka and India during the second half of the winter.
Joe Root’s players signed off from their Test summer against West Indies and Pakistan and exited the biosecure bubble in Southampton uncertain of when their next series will be, with the pandemic having wreaked havoc with the schedules.
As things stand there is meant to be a white-ball tour of South Africa in December as part of the new ODI Super League, but it remains uncertain that will take place. Thereafter England’s Test team is due to play against Sri Lanka in January 2021 – a rescheduling of the tour that was postponed in March this year – before taking on Virat Kohli’s India.
Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, has already said that while the upcoming Indian Premier League is being held in the UAE, the Tests against England will take place on home soil. England, mindful of this hectic start to 2021, therefore want to keep their red-ball players ticking over in the meantime.
Root said: “It is nice to know that some form of preparation is being considered ahead of the winter tours – if they take place – and it would give us a good chance of competing if it is in sub-continental conditions. If not then we just have to make the most of what is available to us.”
The trip would likely mirror the start of this summer by featuring intra-squad matches at either the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi or the ICC’s academy in Dubai. If England’s one-day squad do travel to South Africa, multi-format players such as Root and Ben Stokes may join for either the start or end of the training camp.
England will have named a new set of centrally-contracted players before this, with Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope expected to receive their first deals. Jonny Bairstow, who has played just one Test since the end of last summer, is likely to be the one player to miss out among the 10 who are currently contracted for red-ball cricket.
While the Test seamers are due a rest there is still plenty of cricket still to play this summer and Root, due to play for Yorkshire in Thursday’s T20 Blast opener against Nottinghamshire, has urged those not involved in the white-ball matches against Pakistan and Australia to stay on top of their games despite the uncertainty. He said: “Some guys will want to get back into county cricket and play as much as they can to make the most of the summer. Once that is over, there will be a lot of onus put on individuals to make sure they are ready when Test cricket is back.”
The plan to rotate the bowling attack this summer slightly fell by the wayside. Mark Wood played just one match with Jofra Archer preferred in the main and Jack Leach, who will become central to winter plans on spinning pitches, was unused throughout as Dom Bess, eight wickets at 55.5, furthered his development.
Root was unrepentant, saying: “[Wood] had a few niggles throughout the start of the summer. We want to make sure when Woody plays he can perform at the top end of his game. That is what gives him an X factor and an opportunity to make a difference. I am not concerned. We all know how special a talent Woody is and I can see him playing a lot more Test cricket for England in the future.”
On the spinners, he added: “Bess was in possession. He performed very well in South Africa. He did not get a huge amount of opportunity to affect the games because of the pitches and weather. It would have been unfair to deprive him of that opportunity.
“I think we are in a place where we have got two guys to get better, desperate to learn. If we get to play in the subcontinent this winter, I’m sure they will get an opportunity.”