India completed a T20I series, against South Africa at home, on June 19. They will begin another, in Ireland, today (June 26) – the day when a different Indian side will be playing Leicestershire to prepare for the Test match against England from July 1-5. Then, from July 7, they will play T20Is against England.
India’s squads for the Test match and the T20Is in Ireland are mutually exclusive. Given the two-day gap before the T20Is against England, that squad is unlikely to feature anyone from the Test team too.
The different teams are by design and not an accidental one-off incident. On June 15, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Jay Shah had announced that India were likely to have ‘two national teams ready at the same time, playing white ball and red ball in different countries.’
The BCCI had tested this last year, when the Indian team was in England to play six Test matches from June to September. While the team was in England, India sent a separate squad to Sri Lanka in July, to play three ODIs and three T20Is. While there was no clash between the cricketing calendars, India did deploy two simultaneous squads in different countries.
India were almost forced to do this during the strict quarantine restrictions of 2021. However, things are a lot less stringent this year. Unlike last year’s ‘trial run’, two Indian teams playing at the same time is a deliberate move.
England, hosts to the Indian Test side last year as well as this year, did the same at the time of writing this piece. They are playing a three-match Test series against New Zealand. Between the second and third Test matches, however, they played a three-match ODI series in Netherlands – with a different squad.
This may strike to us as odd, because we are conditioned to believe that there can be only one national side at a given point. However, not only is there precedence, it is also a likely future.
This is not the first time
History is replete with such examples. In 1998, the Sahara Cup – a bilateral series between India and Pakistan in Toronto – clashed with the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, the first edition that included cricket. India and Pakistan had to send two squads to two countries.
In 1994/95, Australia hosted a quadrangular tournament, featuring England, Zimbabwe, and two Australian teams, though they called them Australia and Australia A. In fact, throughout the tournament, the Australian selectors kept switching players between the two sides.
The first ever Women’s World Cup, played in England in 1973, had two English teams – England and Young England. The two teams met in the league stage.
Nearly a century before that, in 1887/88, two English teams toured Australia at the same time – unthinkable today, but perhaps not in an era before a central organising board. The two English sides played several matches but combined to play only once against an Australian XI. Four years later, two touring parties left the English shores again roughly together, one for Australia, the other for South Africa.
Had the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) not taken over as the central body for all English tours, this could have become a pattern. But even after MCC’s advent, two English teams played Test matches on the same day in 1929/30, against New Zealand in Christchurch and against West Indies in Bridgetown.
India and England are merely replicating history.
They are, in essence, not two teams
Limited-overs cricket grew in popularity in the 1980s, but for a long time, there used to be one touring party. The two series – Test and ODI – were not separated. The organisers often sandwiched an ODI or two between two Test matches.
Then, around 1997, Australia announced separate teams for Tests and ODIs. Mark Taylor, their Test captain, was not even part of the ODI set-up. Steve Waugh, the ODI captain, played Test cricket under the leadership of Taylor. While some cricketers were part of both squads, others were format-specific specialists.
While a common practice today, this was a revolutionary idea a quarter of a century ago, one that changed the global sporting calendar. Hosting nations began to organise Tests separately from ODIs, and format-specialists travelled accordingly.
But two simultaneous matches were still unthinkable, for every side had a number of cricketers who played both Tests and ODIs. Barring a few exceptions, many of them were also indispensable in either format.
All that changed with the advent of Twenty20 cricket. As the shortest – and newest – format kept evolving at a pace quicker than the other formats, its specialists grew up on a different definition of technique than their more traditional predecessors. Test and T20 specialists, especially the batters, have little in common in their approach, and only a handful are good enough to make it to top national sides in both formats. Bowlers adapt better, but on the flip side, they tend to get injured more often and need more rest.
Thus, a team can easily field a Test and a T20 International side on the same day, on two different continents. While both sides will assume the same name – India, say – they will, in essence, playing two different sports.
Is this good for cricket?
There is little doubt that the boards will earn more as a result. And once that happens, there will be more money in the sport, thereby generating more revenue and employment.
What about the cricket? Simultaneous squads will provide cricketers with much-needed breaks in their jam-packed calendars. Workload management will be a simpler task without the boards having to compromise on revenue.
Of course, not all teams have the depth to consistently pick separate teams for separate formats at this point, but over time that is likely to change.The days of India playing a Test match against England from half past nine to five, then a T20 International – also against England – from seven in the evening may not be far away.