England head coach Chris Silverwood has apologised for the way Moeen Ali's departure from India was communicated, and insists the rotation policy that led to it does not undermine the Test team.
It emerged after the heavy defeat in Chennai that Moeen was heading home and would miss the final two matches, with captain Joe Root telling a post-match press conference the all-rounder had “chosen” to depart.
That wording appeared problematic, with team management and selectors having previously taken responsibility for decisions to rest other multi-format regulars Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Mark Wood during the marquee series.
It has since been established that Moeen was merely taking his own allocated break period before returning for next month’s Twenty20 matches, though England did float the idea of keeping him around for the next two Tests.
Root talked with Moeen after his comments were reported to clarify his position and Silverwood was clear to put the record straight on Wednesday. “First of all we’re sorry if the impression we gave yesterday was that Moeen’s being treated different to other people,” he said.
“He isn’t, I can guarantee you of that; the decision was ours, as it was with Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood. We’re happy to own that decision.”
Silverwood did admit that the idea of staying out for the remainder of the series had been broached with the 33-year-old, while accepting his personal circumstances made it difficult.
As well as having a young family at home, Moeen has spent 20 days in room-based quarantine since the start of the trip, having tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Sri Lanka last month.
“The question was posed to him. He was asked, but ultimately we felt it was the right decision for him to go home,” he said.
“It was a unique situation with Moeen, he’d spent so long in isolation, getting Covid out in Sri Lanka, and with how he just broke back into the team.
“We touched base with Mo last night, as did Joe. He’s fine, he understands that we’ve got his best interests at heart and we’re trying to look after him, the same as the other players. These are strange times we’re in and we have to look after our players.”
Beyond the handling of Moeen’s specific case is the more vexed question of where England’s Test ambitions sit in the bigger picture. No country values the longer format more highly, but the idea that compromises are being made is unavoidable.
With a T20 World Cup in India later this year, captain and Irishman Eoin Morgan has been granted a full-strength squad in March, while Root will have been dealing with a weakened group for each of the winter's six Tests.
That may also be the case for the first two next summer, with the England and Wales Cricket Board reportedly ready to excuse any players on duty in the Indian Premier League play-offs from the start of New Zealand's visit in June.
“Test cricket is really important to me. I can guarantee that we are not prioritising anything above Test cricket,” he said.
“It’s something Joe and I are very passionate about. I’m at peace with where we are at, to be honest. Joe understands as well as I do that it is difficult. The length of time we are here for the Test series compared to the length of the T20 series is chalk and cheese. To play four Tests over here in this bubble, we have to rotate people.”
As for the prospect of England players staying on IPL duty when England play a Test at Lord's — a possibility for the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Sam Curran, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes depending on results — Silverwood was relaxed.
“I understand that is how the world works: I understand it, I embrace it and I’ll do the best to make it work,” he said.
“I think it is very difficult to say ‘no, you can’t play in the IPL’. We will reap the rewards when they come back and play T20 for us having improved their skills and with knowledge of other players.”