Wednesday, August 10, 2022

England’s crazy schedule is whipping out stars like Stokes and curtailing careers – it can’t go on like this

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With Test cricket taking precedence and all the money coming from T20s, Stokes’ retirement could spell the beginning of the end for a 50-over game, writes Chris Stocks

Stokes is the only current England cricketer who is undeniably a household name. Three summers ago he almost single-handedly won the epic World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s – a game that was broadcast on free-to-air TV. He’s a British sporting icon and rightly so.

If England needed a wake-up call about how unsustainable their current schedule is, they certainly got it with the retirement of Ben Stokes from one-day international cricket.

Now, however, he will not take part in the title defense next year in India.

At 31, Stokes certainly had more to bring to the ODI format. But even for a man whom England’s former white-ball captain Eoin Morgan described as “superhuman” after that World Cup final, the schedule was too much.

Stokes, a player who took a mental break from cricket last summer, had taken over as Test captain earlier this summer and already had a huge workload.

Asking him to play all three formats at a time when England are cramming more and more cricket into smaller and smaller windows would always end up that way.

To put the current summer in England in context, it lasts 103 days between June and September. You will play on 50 of them.

The series are already overlapping, with a one-day squad traveling to the Netherlands last month in the middle of a Test series against New Zealand.

A T20 squad had already left for the West Indies in January, before England’s Ashes campaign in Australia was over.

This current spate of white ball matches against India and South Africa began just two days after the last friendly against India in Edgbaston earlier this month. There is a day’s pause between the end of the India ODIs and the next series, which begins Tuesday against South Africa. In all, England will cram 12 games against India and South Africa – six ODIs and six T20s – in 25 days before the month ends.

After that, there’s a two-week break to allow England’s players – but not Stokes – to play in the hundred. Then three more tests against South Africa. If you’re feeling exhausted reading all of this, then get this – England’s winter begins two days after summer ends. Yes, a T20 squad will fly to Pakistan for a seven-game series just 48 hours after the end of the final friendly against South Africa at The Oval.

Then there are three T20s in Australia ahead of a World Cup in the same country and then three ODIs to coincide with the start of England’s test tour of Pakistan.

A one-day streak in South Africa in January then overlaps with the start of a test tour of New Zealand, which doesn’t finish before a white-ball tour of Bangladesh begins with three ODIs and three T20s. It’s crazy. If England’s all-format players can’t cast teleportation or clone themselves, it’s not possible – or desirable – to play everything.

There is just too much cricket out there and it is killing the sport and cutting short careers, including that of the most famous English cricketer of his generation. The England & Wales Cricket Board talks a lot about player welfare and mental health. But talking comes cheap when you’re whipping players to boost profits and legitimize a new tournament in the Hundred that has shattered the county and national internationals schedule.

Stokes will not be the last to compete in 50-over cricket, a format reduced to development status domestically following the ECB’s decision to schedule the Royal London One-Day Cup at the same time as the Hundred.

Jonny Bairstow could well decide to pick ODIs next and Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, two fast bowlers who have been plagued by injuries, are likely to follow. Then there’s Moeen Ali, who has come out of Test retirement but certainly won’t be able to play all three formats if picked again for the longest format. For him, too, the logical option would be to terminate ODIs. Then there’s the glut of superstars around the world who could do the same.

The primacy of Test cricket is a priority, while the T20 format is where the real money is made – for boards and players. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which format is on the verge of extinction.

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