What’s on the agenda today? The headline says it all. We’re about to enter the height of summer, a time synonymous with long sunny days and Richie Benaud saying “morning everyone”, yet England won’t be playing a test match this month or next. Instead our ECB overlords have created what amounts to a ‘no-test’ zone.
England’s test series against India commences as late the 1st August this year, by which time we’ll know who won Wimbledon, who won the football World Cup, whether England’s rugby team returned to winning ways in South Africa, and who won The Open golf.
And what do us proper cricket fans have to look forward to? A sequence of white ball games that are little more than glorified exhibition matches. After all, nobody will remember or care who won the week after they finish.
Between today and England’s next test match, the ECB have scheduled eight ODIs (five against Australia and three against India) plus three T20s (all against India). That means there will be eleven – yes eleven! – white ball fixtures before Root, Stokes and Buttler wear whites again.
I do feel a bit sorry for Jos. He’s finally found some form in proper cricket but he’s not going to see another red Duke for the foreseeable future.
I’ve heard people argue that England need these games ahead of the World Cup. Do me a favour. Do we really need a whopping eight ODIs and three T20s? Our white ball team is pretty settled. Sure they could use a few fixtures to keep their eye in but wouldn’t it be better to divide these up (and play one series now and one later) so they’re not too rusty when they’re touring this winter?
I’ve also heard it argued, regrettably, that it’s right and proper for England to focus on white ball cricket in the next two months. Why? Because our white ball team are superb and that’s what the public want to see. Our test team, on the other hand, is a waste of space and therefore too much of a hard sell.
I find this latter argument as depressing as double maths at school. Who on earth would want to give up on our test team simply because they’re having a bad trot? What’s more, this argument is totally misconceived. The ECB used to schedule plenty of ODIs when we were the No.1 test side in the world and our white ball team was utter dross.
The truth is that first class cricket has become increasingly marginalised over recent years. The ECB apparently haven’t cared about the championship for years, and this summer test cricket has been somewhat pushed to the periphery of the season too. Call me naive, but I had hoped that test cricket would be immune. It seems I was wrong.
No doubt some will argue that the ECB have scheduled these upcoming white ball games as a ‘dry run’ before the World Cup; so they can make sure everything is in place logistically before the big tournament arrives. Again this doesn’t add up. Similar preparation wasn’t required for the two Champions Trophy competitions, the T20 World Cup, and the two 50-over World Cups that have been held on our shores before.
I’ve also heard it mentioned that it was the BCCI and not the ECB who insisted on playing the ODIs before the test series began. In which case (a) why didn’t the ECB stand their ground and say ‘no’, and (b) why on earth did the ECB insist on playing FIVE one-day internationals against the Aussies immediately beforehand? Most of us are sick of the sight of Australia right now. They’re not even able to send a full strength side!
The conclusion most cricket supporters will draw, of course, is that the ECB have done this for financial reasons and for financial reasons only. They’re no longer custodians of the great game of cricket in this country. They’re merely people who try to make as much money as possible from cricket.
When Gideon Haigh the excellent Australian cricket writer was interviewed in Death Of A Gentleman, he famously posed the existential question: does cricket make money to exist or does cricket exist to make money? In the ECB’s case I think we can safely says it’s the latter.
Why else would we be playing just two tests against Pakistan, with 5 ODIs against Australia instead of a decider, and then belatedly shoehorning five test matches into six weeks when the red ball action finally returns in August and September?
The whole situation makes me feel sick to my stomach. What on earth is happening to our wonderful game?