Red-ball alert: Joe Root and fellow Ashes hopes are doing next to nothing in the IPL – The Guardian

Test cricket is neglected enough – why not let the England batter tune up at Yorkshire if he is not going to play in India?
The guard dies. But it does not surrender! These famous words may or may not have been uttered at the battle of Waterloo by Pierre Cambronne, one of those indestructible French imperial general types who looks like his entire body has been patched together from goose liver, marzipan, powdered wig and duelling scars.
Admittedly some sources record Cambronne’s actual response on being asked to surrender as simply “shit”; which sounds, on balance, more relatable. But it doesn’t really matter. The to-the-death stuff is great optics, eyeballs, vibes, energy.
And in this same vein there has been something of the no-surrender general about Stuart Broad’s inexhaustible and increasingly entertaining commitment to preserving the legend and primacy of the Ashes. Which, just to remind everyone, starts in two months’ time and which probably should be getting a bit more in the way of buildup ahead of what may yet turn out to be its own doomed last stand this summer.
For now Broad is pretty much a lone buzz generator and hype-man. The quotes, well, the quotes have been vintage, knee-pounding stuff. At the start of the week Broad announced, Warne-style, that he had invented a new delivery, a new kind of out-swinger designed specifically to derail the careers of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, which may or may not turn out to be the case, but is obviously just lovely stuff.
After that Broad summarily cancelled the 2021-22 Ashes series, not because England lost 4-0, but because it basically didn’t feel good or real. So that’s that one done and scrubbed. He also predicted Australia’s attempts to copy Bazball would end in disaster and be “brilliant for England” the only issue being Australia have not made any suggestion they would attempt to copy Bazball, but that doesn’t matter because this is, again, great content.
Broad has entered a kind of imperial state these days. A key turning point was that moment two summers ago where he basically killed Ed Smith’s career as a selector by being hilariously outraged in a diary room chair on Sky Sports at the idea of being “rotated”. From there every Broad utterance has become a gift to be pored over hungrily for toxic jabs and layers of irony, and above all to be unconditionally agreed with.
Frankly Test cricket needs it right now, it needs Broad out there barking through his megaphone, still fighting this battle from his lost pocket of jungle. With 10 weeks to go even the Ashes summer is already starting to look a little bit underdone, a little bit beta. It will probably be fine. The players are grizzled enough to simply click straight back in. But as there has never been a buildup quite so stripped back and seat-of-the-pants as this one, and certainly not for such a decisive-looking red-ball summer.
Essentially, most of England’s key batsmen are at the IPL doing next to nothing. For all the spin and hopeful briefings, this is a problem. Take Joe Root, currently making a splash with the Rajasthan Royals, albeit this has so far been restricted to social media excitement over his “groovy dance moves” at a team outing, pretty much the only time Root has been spotted in public.
“Joe Root to Make Debut?” ran one hopeful headline this week before the KKR game. But no! Joe Root was not about to make his debut. Joe Root has so far played zero games of IPL cricket, unable to force his way past some middling overseas sloggers.
It seems clear Root should be cutting his gains and coming back to play some county stuff for Yorkshire. If he stays through the IPL group stage he will have just a handful of T20 Blast matches to refine the complex moving parts of his red-ball game before the first Ashes Test. Root is a great cricketer. He can manage this, probably. But why push it, why keep lingering unused as the days tick down, like someone’s dad nursing a pint at the back of the student nightclub in a too-tight shiny shirt?
The same applies for different reasons to Ben Stokes, who hasn’t played since two early IPL games, and who clearly has a significant knee injury. Stokes has one score of 50 in all cricket since August last year. He’s pretty good at stepping up. That lone half-century was (you know, just saying) the innings that won the T20 World Cup. But he also looks simultaneously knackered and undercooked, which is either a fascinating, disruptive, potentially epic combo or a really bad one.
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This is before we get on to Jofra Archer, bowling rockets in the IPL this month, but now having more surgery on that horribly tender elbow. Chuck in Harry Brook, who scored a wonderful hundred at Eden Gardens but has struggled either side. And two months from the Ashes, half of England’s Test top six are doing social media skits and sitting in a plastic hutch talking to Andy Bichel (or similar) while pretending to be interested in other people playing generic noise-cricket.
The standard response to this is some fawning stuff about how much England player’s learn “just being around” their IPL teammates, which might make some sense if India, whose players get this learning every year, had actually won a T20 tournament since 2007.
Is this really any kind of preparation? Not for winning the Ashes. It really doesn’t matter who wins. But for making it good, for having some kind of contest, making the games go past three days, making this most neglected and undermined of formats look like it still has some distance left to run.
There is still a way for both of these things to exist. Ditch the clumsy central contracts and pay handsomely for actually playing Tests. Carve out time. Make sure there is prep and proper marketing, not just a clutch of bleary-eyed star players fumbling about for their whites six weeks from now.
For now it would make all kinds of sense for Root and probably Stokes to come back and play some county stuff. Follow the money is fair enough advice. But Test cricket has enriched and ennobled the current generation of England players. And it is pretty close to tipping point. Death may well be looming beyond the lines, however this thing is sliced. It doesn’t have to be surrender too.


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