So then. After a few weeks of inactivity, and a series of farcically wet ODIs which captured precisely nobody’s imagination, we’ve finally got some meaningful cricket to look forward to. There’s just one problem: it’s still monsoon season in Sri Lanka and I sense this pre-series buildup will be a complete waste of time. I’ve just looked up the Galle weather forecast and ‘heavy thunderstorms’ are forecast for all five days of the test. Typical.
Obviously ECB apologists will argue that they’ve done Sri Lanka a favour by turning up at all. I’ve read so much nonsense about how the hectic schedule simply didn’t allow England to tour at any other time of year. This, of course, is utter nonsense because it frames discussion in a false context.
The only reason why there’s no room to tour Sri Lanka at a sensible time of year is because we can’t be arsed to find room to tour Sri Lanka at a sensible time of year. Australia and India series (plus money-spinning white ball events) are written into the calendar in indelible ink, and everything else has to fit in around these lucrative games. That’s why this is the only window available.
Unfortunately touring Sri Lanka simply isn’t a priority. And the powers that be don’t particularly care that series against poorer boards are important to the long-term health of the game. All they can think about is the next pay cheque.
One day, when India, Australia, and England supporters are sick of the sight of each other (and these series become less lucrative as a result), they’ll start to think about playing the other ‘smaller’ nations a bit more. Unfortunately it might be too late judging by the perilous state of some nations’ finances. And saying “we told you so” will be absolutely no consolation because test cricket will be dying on its arse and only utterly banal domestic T20 tournaments will be left. Oh well.
Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest let’s discuss the actual test series ahead. Let’s assume, just for a second, that the rain will stay away from Galle and a result is possible. I imagine this assumption is rather fanciful but please bear with me.
It’s interesting to ponder the XI England might pick irrespective of whether the weather ruins it all. After all, England have a few fresh faces to consider. And there’s even talk of picking the best pure wicket-keeper available for the first time in approximately a decade. That’s right folks, apparently there’s a realistic chance that Ben Foakes might play.
Being a purist I’ll be delighted if the Surrey keeper makes an appearance. Foakes is the best gloveman in the country (with the possible exception of Ben Cox) and he’s a clear upgrade over Jos Buttler who is serviceable at best. In fact, Foakes is also an up-grade over Jonny Bairstow who has rarely let England down behind the stumps. Although he’ll probably drop every half-chance that comes his way now that everyone’s given him the big build-up.
There’s also still a lot of chat about Stuart Broad. Some say Broad will make way for a third spinner; others like Mark Butcher have argued that Broad should make way for Olly Stone regardless of the final balance. Personally I’m still torn over this one, especially if the pitch retains a bit of moisture because of all the rain. It’s a tough one to call.
Finally, England must decide who is going to bat 3. Even though he’s played poorly thus far, I still think Joe Denly should be given a chance – although I’m slightly nervous that age hasn’t particularly solved his problem with nerves. Some players (Mark Ramprakash and Vikram Solanki are excellent examples) are supremely talented but just can’t crack it at international level because they’re too intense and anxious. This was Denly’s problem when he first played for England too. I’ve read plenty of articles since Denly was recalled that age has mellowed him greatly. However, his nervy innings thus far on tour suggest otherwise.
I really hope Denly comes through this test of character as I still believe he could be a very fine player. However, I have to admit that I was worried somewhat by a recent interview in which he attributed his fine domestic form to giving up on his international aspirations. Obviously it’s easy to relax when you think your time has gone and the spotlight has moved onto someone else. Now he’s back under the microscope it’s an entirely different mindset.
If Denly plays – and apparently it’s a big ‘if’ now – I just hope he can score a few early boundaries and settle down quickly before the doubts begin to descend. This is where England’s psychologist should really earn his coin.
In an ideal world Denly plays well and cements the No.3 spot for the Ashes as I don’t see many alternatives. I doubt Moeen is good enough to bat that high against Australia’s pacemen, and I’m a signed up member of the Root must bat at 4 club. The skipper averages 53 with 2 tons at first drop and 59 with 5 tons at second drop.
The other option being discussed is Ben Stokes at 3. Whilst I like Stokes as a batsman, and believe he has a pretty good technique, I also rate him as a bowler and think he should bowl more overs than someone like Jacques Kallis. It’s pretty hard to bat at 3 if you’ve bowled your fair share of overs (especially in the Sri Lankan heat). What’s more, and we have to be honest about this, Stokes might be an entertaining player but he’s clearly not in Kallis’s class as a test batter.
Moving on to domestic matters there have been a couple of interesting recent developments re: Harrison’s Harebrained Hundred. Although the ECB were initially keen to own and control the franchises (which is what Cricket Australia do with the Big Bash) there’s now talk of selling the franchises to private investors at some point. I imagine this is partly because the set up costs are spiralling, and flogging some franchises might balance the books and help cover some of the marketing costs moving forward.
The private investment model is what they do in India with the IPL. This really helped to publicise the tournament because the franchises were bought by very wealthy individuals and Bollywood companies who then had a direct interest in making the tournament a success.
Although I’m sure the ECB would love a cash injection, selling the franchises does have some disadvantages. For starters they’d lose some control and wouldn’t be able to make decisions unilaterally. Something tells me the ECB bigwigs wouldn’t like this very much. What’s more, private investors might unleash powerful forces with unforeseen consequences.
For example, the IPL is now a gambler’s paradise. There are some incredibly popular IPL betting apps to download, and whilst the fans love the razzmatazz (and all that surrounding jazz) I’m not so sure the ECB fuddy duddies would be entirely comfortable. Having said that, if the cash keeps rolling in and the deep pockets and expertise of third parties makes their nonsensical project a success then they might happily turn a blind eye. The problem, of course, is that the new competition might bomb completely and no private investors will be interested. This would serve them right but the consequences for English domestic cricket might be dire.
Finally, it has been confirmed that the sacrificial lamb murdered to make room for The Hundred will be England’s domestic 50 over competition. In order to make way for the madness what is now known as The Royal London Cup will be played in mid-July to mid-August at the same time as the Hundred.
This move basically signals the end of meaningful 50 over cricket in England. Our domestic competition will basically receive zero publicity (as it will be completely overshadowed by the franchise tournament), and the quality will be poor. The counties will be shorn of their best players (who will be busy representing the London Lunatics or the Nottingham Nincompoops) and no overseas players will be allowed either. This is because the ECB wants all overseas stars to be available for the Hundred.
What simultaneously fascinates and appalls me so much about this development is the fact that England have dedicated the last few years to creating a world beating 50 over side. The ECB’s goal has been to win the 2019 World Cup at all costs – even if this means handicapping the test team. And yet, they’re immediately happy to turn their backs on the format as soon as the World Cup is over. It’s utterly bizarre. For the last few years the England ODI side has meant everything. Yet from the year 2020 it will mean nothing.
The good news, however, is that things could’ve been worse: at least it’s the domestic 50 over competition being shafted rather than the championship. What’s more, the increasingly popular T20 Blast will still exist in its current form with a finals day at Edgbaston – although it will doubtless lose some of its lustre.
Overall I guess we should be thankful for small mercies. But I can’t help feeling angry at the whole situation. The English domestic schedule was already ridiculously overcrowded before The Hundred came along. And now the ECB have shoehorned yet another tournament into the calendar things are looking more tightly packed than Linford Christie’s lunchbox.
English cricket needs another tournament like a hole in the head. And it certainly doesn’t need another tournament like The Hundred – a ludicrous proposal that cricket fans don’t want and non-cricket fans have absolutely no interest in.
No wonder the ECB have just appointed Ian Lovett as chairman to improve the board’s image. The ECB are a complete laughing stock. And they’re about as popular as a beer-fart on the tube at rush hour.
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