Chris Waters - Complaints about pitch and short Test match mask more important underlying issues

IF YOU lost a wallet containing £5,000 what would be your chief concern: the wallet or the £5,000?

Back home: Moeen Ali headed back to England to spend time with his family, missing the last two Tests in India. Photo by Pankaj Nangia/ Sportzpics for BCCI Must credit: BCCI (via ECB)

IF YOU lost a wallet containing £5,000 what would be your chief concern: the wallet or the £5,000?

Unless the wallet is made from gold, or possessed some sort of sentimental value, you would be more concerned about the money.

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So it is with all those ranting about the pitch for the third Test between India and England instead of raving about the real issues thrown up by the tour.

Missing out: England captain Joe Root has been shorn of two key players in Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler. Photo by Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for BCCI

The pitch is a sideshow, a false trail followed by those unable – or even unwilling – to see the bigger picture.

It is not pitches that people should be getting all worked up about, claiming surfaces such as that which produced a two-day finish in Ahmedabad are killing Test cricket, but the fact that this job is being done rather well by the likes of England, whose attitude towards the format could not be more obvious.

By resting players for such a marquee series, second only to the Ashes in terms of importance, England’s feelings for Test cricket have been laid transparently bare.

One knew that the situation was bad, of course, but one did not realise it was quite so bad until the selection shambles witnessed this winter, whereby it was deemed more important for Jos Buttler, for instance, to play in the forthcoming five-match T20 international series against India than in the last three Tests.

Change of format: Jos Buttler, right, wasn't picked for the Tests in India, but has been held back for the T20 series. Picture courtesy of Sri Lanka cricket via ECB.

If Buttler needs such fine-tuning ahead of a T20 World Cup more than half-a-year away, then he is not as good or as adaptable a player as this correspondent thought, particularly with the Indian Premier League also on his horizon.

Of course, the reality is that the T20 World Cup is too high among England’s priorities and Test cricket too low in what is, after all, an Ashes year.

Just as Test cricket is no longer England’s priority, with a number of players potentially missing a Test match against New Zealand at Lord’s this summer due to it clashing with the latter stages of IPL, neither is it that of some of those players.

Again, Buttler is an obvious example.

The truth is – and I’ll put it as bluntly as it should be put – that Buttler would rather take the IPL money than play Test cricket for his country.

Ditto Moeen Ali, to whom England laughably felt that they had to apologise for a clumsy use of wording when they said that he had “chosen” to leave the Test series as opposed to taking a prearranged break before he goes off to pick up £700,000 in the IPL (even more laughably, there were suggestions – as there always are in our increasingly woke culture – that the episode was somehow racist). What drivel. Granted, Buttler and Moeen give their all when they do play Test cricket; their commitment on the field should never be questioned.

But these are already extremely well-paid sportsmen who are expressly choosing to take the money.

Yes, it may be difficult to turn down, but nor should it be forgotten that these are men who are not exactly short of a bob or two and who earn staggering sums compared to the average man in the street – IPL or no IPL.

Frankly, one would not have a problem with all this if the situation was simply admitted and a parting of the ways agreed so that England picked players who do want to play Test cricket, who do put Test cricket first and who, more often than not, are actually available.

Ultimately, players have a free choice – Adil Rashid, you will remember, exercised his at Yorkshire by quitting first-class cricket a few years back after which it was Yorkshire’s decision, and Yorkshire’s alone, to effectively turn a blind eye to it and decide that it was better to have Rashid available for a handful of white-ball games than no games at all.

But it is surely not fair on the likes of Ben Foakes, or Dom Bess, if Buttler and Moeen are around one minute and not the next.

Surely it is better to move forward with cricketers like Foakes and Bess while wishing all the best to those who wish to primarily follow the white-ball path.

It would certainly be the more honest and honourable course of action.

A thought occurred during the latter stages of England’s annihilation in Ahmedabad: how much did it hurt Buttler and Moeen watching back at home?

That is not intended as a personal criticsm, but more as a genuine observation. Did it hurt them, for example, as much as it clearly Joe Root, who looked crushed and crestfallen as the last rites played out?

Did it sting the absentees in anything like the same way?

Of course, the captain is always going to feel the pain of defeat more than most, just as the opposite might be said of the euphoria of victory, especially given that captain Root had near single-handed bowled his side back into the match with figures of 5-8.

But were the absentees really thinking, ‘Gee, how I really wish I was still out there helping the guys in such an important series?’

To answer my own question, there is certainly no reason to think that anyone who had prioritised the IPL over a potentially career-defining series that could establish their legacy as a Test player would actually think that.

The pitch? Well, what of it? It may not have been ideal for Test cricket, but two-day Tests are a rarity and the entertainment was so remarkable that one was almost begging for the start of The Hundred for a bit of respite from all the high-octane drama.

Almost, but not quite.

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