The White Ball Syndrome

My Last ODI - Did Anyone Care?
My Last ODI – Did Anyone Care? – A Dmitri Old Picture

Following on from yesterday’s piece on the Strauss interviews, I thought I’d do a little bit on the other issues that surround the game in this country. The chief of which is the curious case of mismatch of interest.

All through the World Cup there were people on the Twitter feed saying that they really didn’t care about how England did, because, in their words, we’ve always been useless at this sort of thing.  Yet, whenever there is an ODI match in the UK, in the main (not always, I know) these are really well attended. People do like watching them, but at the end of the day, do they care? And it is that care that makes the task of Strauss very, very tough indeed. There are going to be no campaigns to sack a one day captain – and as I write that I recall Alastair Cook, but let’s treat that as a special case – and one day form is seen as being somehow inferior to being in test form. Whereas the rules of test cricket have not changed hugely, barely a year goes by without some tinkering with field placements, powerplays and, of course, the hugely lamented supersub is inflicted on ODIs. The format itself seems insecure.

We seem alone in caring so much about test cricket, but are we really? Are we equating attendance at a fixture with the amount the people care about it? After all, T20 matches are ten-a-penny, but are well attended, but are you as awfully upset if your team loses one of them, as you would be if your team lost a key longer-form game?

Test cricket does not have a world championship, so the idea of who is the best is determined on a rolling basis, which people find incredibly hard to understand how it works. At the moment the world ranked number 1 team is South Africa, who are being given a bit of a beating in India. England were number 1 for a year, in which their first series as top of the tree brought about a 3-0 defeat in the UAE. We are now ranked number 6. Whenever the reign of Strauss and Flower is brought up. being number 1 test side in the world follows. But at the same time, England were ranked number 1 in the world at ODIs too, and that’s never mentioned at all. We reached the final of the Champions Trophy, and choked in a T20 final masquerading as an ODI, and yet that’s dismissed. No-one placed any value on it.

Because, let’s face it, in ODI cricket all that counts is the World Cup. It’s the importance of that once in four years championship that conquers all. The main reason, one could call it a priority reason, Strauss gives a stuff about white ball cricket, if you ask me, is that we are at home in 2019 (and the CT in 2017) and failure there would make him (and not the suits above him) a laughing stock. It’s why the next world event, the World T20, is barely given a passing mention. It’s in India, we don’t play well there, so who cares?

Can you make people care?

The grave danger is that you might not be able to. Caring is about losing, not about winning. Everyone feels nice when their team wins, but caring is about how you feel when they lose. I’m a Brian Lara fan, so when Warner was 244 not out after one day, and playing like a God, and he’s a player I’m not that fond of, I would care immensely if he lost the record to him. If it were Hayden’s 380, I’d be willing Warner on, but only to make 381. I’d care because I loved Lara. Now, as you know, what the ECB have done over the past 18 months meant that I have ceased to care about how England perform, so that on many occasions, my sense of misery after they lost has diminished. Getting that caring back is much harder than losing it.

But even during my peak times of fandom, did losing hurt that much? In tests, oh yes. If asked what was my lowest moment in sport while I was at the venue, it probably would have to be Stern John’s goal in the Play-Off Semi in 2002. I gave enormous amounts of time and money to my club, knew that goal would likely mean the break-up over time of that squad, and we lost our shot at the Premier League. But running it close was the Adelaide test of 2006. While some make light of it with their “it never existed” meme, the agony over six hours of watching that demise is still immensely painful. There are pieces to be written about it still, but it was shattering.

He never bloody hit this, Bucknor
He never bloody hit this, Bucknor – A Dmitri Old Picture….

I have been to a few, not many, ODIs, and the most memorable, if you will, was the England v New Zealand game at The Oval in 2007. This was the Elliott/Sidebottom game, when Collingwood upheld an appeal, but New Zealand somehow won by one wicket in the last over. It was an exciting game, it was won off the last ball, I believe, and yet….. I’ve never been back to an ODI. Both Sir Peter and I were of the same mind. It was a great game, but it never mattered. It’s almost fandom-lite. You can watch a spectacle, admire it’s good parts, tut-tut at the bad, but you never gave a stuff. Not really.

This is where the fandom gets personal. I watched the Ashes series this summer with a bit more detachment, and thus found it hard to fathom why fans were going so mad over two wins on green tops (I think the Cardiff wicket was fine for both teams, actually, and was a superb win by England). I would have been more delighted if we’d won in UAE as that would take some doing, just as India in 2012, Australia (for all their faults) in 2010-11 and the wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka 2000-01. And yes, Australia at home in 2005 with that team, which, remember, one tweeter memorably said he’s wished had never happened! All supporters are different.

Care does need to be taken, because ODIs are too frequent, too many played with not enough riding on them, quite often without main stars who are rested. If authorities treat them like this, then why should anyone care? While people go on about tests lacking context, the only context that seems to matter on ODIs is how often can we put them on while keeping grounds nice and full. When you have a billion people across India, with ODI grounds a plenty, that special occasion might be a local thing. In England, the ten or so we put on a year are often tucked on to test series, and seen as the dying embers of a tour.

I come from an era when the county final on the first weekend of September was a massive occasion. Then, when people pointed out that bowling first nearly always won you the game, people found holes in it. The glamour of the occasion died. It’s now a sad, pale imitation of what it once was. Yet that is the format of the game that gets the crowds in at international level! It was failing well before the T20 era, before anyone lays the blame firmly at that door.

It’s not just cricket. Millwall, my team, got to the FA Cup Final in 2004. For a fan like me, the win at Old Trafford against Sunderland was a highlight of my supporting life. Never has 45 minutes passed so slowly. We were well beaten in the final, and as we got our buses back to the car parks in Cardiff, a load, and I mean many, Manchester United fans walked past us, almost solemn, almost disinterested. I said to them “cheer up, chaps, you won the FA Cup!” because people of my age saw this as a highlight of any season. One snapped back “We’re supposed to win this sort of competition”. Clearly, in Arsenal’s invincible season, winning the Cup wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter to them. In one instant, the new football was laid bare. I’d denied it was really true, denied it when I went to cup ties and the attendance was shocking, denied it when clubs played reserve teams, but it was true. Something I cared about, didn’t matter. I’ve scarcely cared about the Cup since (I do believe Manchester United have never won the Cup since).

So, to get back to cricket and the ODI priority. Strauss has seen 50 over cricket’s importance diminish over the last 15-20 years, so there’s no domestic base to give a stuff. T20 matters a little, but does it really? You’ve got 14 games a year to play of that. At international level, the series have on context, with players often rested due to crazy schedules. The competition only seems to matter when there are a mass of teams on your shores battling it out, and even then you constrain who can play there. Why make such a fuss over something we don’t seem to give a fuss about? Why prioritise something that the people who watch may never think is a priority? Good luck Andrew.

What do you lot think?

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22 thoughts on “The White Ball Syndrome

  1. jennyah46 November 15, 2015 / 3:26 pm

    His repeated use of the word ‘priority’ did surprise me. Maybe he was trying to lay the seeds of a message that ODI’s matter. While I do enjoy a good, close, game I can’t say that I care all that much about losing any ODI or T/20. However, I would still not like to see us badly beaten at home CT/17 or at the World Cup in 2019.

    Having read your very interesting piece and thought more about it, I do understand where Strauss is coming from. It’s his job to get the England team playing successfully across all formats. The fact that we will be playing at home gives added focus to the ODI’s. It’s not just about avoiding egg on his face, it’s very much about getting his job done.That is surely the same for most people everywhere.

    I like Andrew Strauss. The fact that he wears a blazer with gold buttons matters not one bit to me. He has intelligence and experience and does not seem to be afraid to learn and change with the times. With such a packed schedule it’s nigh impossible to have our top players appearing in all formats and not every player is suited to both. His plans might not come to fruition but at least he is giving the job his full attention and is trying something different.

    We have many problems in the management of cricket at the moment. From the ICC to the English structure and the development and coaching of young players. It’s going to take a near miracle to get it right, but let’s all keep on trying. The England team has my full and unqualified support. They go out and do the job and have no influence on anything else that goes on above them. I wish them well in all formats but test cricket is the pinnacle of excellence, caring and enjoyment for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark November 15, 2015 / 5:09 pm

    To quote the rock band Queen………..,” nothing really matters, nothing really maters……nothing really maters at all.”

    Iam not in favour of a Test Championship because it will take too long to play all the matches. For something to have a meaning in sport it has to conclude within a certain time frame other wise the players all change. A football league like the Premiership can be sustained for about 9 months. The teams will stay mostly the same, with a few additions in Jamuary, and the players will stay the same age. But after that you need a new season. A cricket world championship would take mearly 3 years for everyone to play against each other. By then teams will be in some case completely different. And I don’t buy the idea it will give people an extra interest.

    We already have a test ranking sytem which changes from series to series. Hardly anyone cares about it. South Africa have been number 1 for the last few years. Did anyone care when England won the Ashes? No At some point you have to conclude the event, and hand over a winners cup. If you go too long it just becomes irrelevent.

    We had a World Cup last year of 50 over cricket, and Australia won. They are world champions. But does that mean we don’t play any more matches for 4 years? No. Sport is a form of entertainment. You can’t force force people to care. I have no idea what Strauss means because he talks in meaningless sound bites that can never be defined. Some people only want to win, others want to be entertained.

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  3. man in a barrel November 15, 2015 / 6:47 pm

    Internet joys…

    It comes down to focus. In football before the Premier league, the FA cup and League cup also had value. The international comps were icing on the cake. Now, the premier league and Europe matter above the domestic cups.

    If Tests in England only last 3 days then, very quickly, county CEOs will stop feeling the need to present them. I imagine that they only start to break-even after about 3.5 days.

    Then the norm will become ODI’s which are currently well supported.

    As a county boss, you can listen to Nasser and Strauss and create pitches that overseas sides cannot compete on, because of lack of familiarity, and watch yourself going bust even faster than ever. Sooner or latr, the inancial realities will make themselves known. I amnot commenting on the economics of presenting 5 day matches on Emirates or Indian pitches, or even Australian pitches. But even these inexperienced English batsmen managed to make a Test last for 5 days in the Emirates. The fact is, as pointed out by one Jack Hobbs in about 1920, that it is easier to adjust to slow bowlers when they make the ball deviate according to the way in which they are spinning the ball than it is to adjust to quicker bowlers who make the ball deviate in a totally unpredicatable way off the seam at higher pace.

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  4. SimonH November 15, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    In one way it’s very simple and Jacques Kallis said it best – you try your hardest to win the next game in front of you. Ponting said Tests were “the pinnacle” and he couldn’t remember much of the ODIs he played outside WCs – but I don’t think anyone ever thought he wasn’t trying to win.

    It seems peculiarly English to get hung up on this either/or mentality. It’s all cricket which is a good thing. Perhaps it’s because the conservative ex-county pros who dominate our MSM can’t quite kick this belief that one-dayers damage the technique required for Tests. They seldom see that one-dayers can help Test technique (would Williamson have played like he just has without one-dayers?) or that the best players should be able to separate the two. But then I listened to them for years saying that one-dayers would kill spin bowling and they got that spectacularly wrong.

    I think many of the BTL English writers keen to share their professed loathing for one-day cricket are, when not simply cultural snobs, mistaking cause and effect. England aren’t poor at ODIs because ‘we don’t care about them’. This is from the “all you have to do is want something badly enough” school of twaddle. If England were more successful, I suspect we’d soon see plenty of caring. Heaven knows the professed haters often seem to know the details of the T20I WC win well enough (although some struggle to remember the man of the tournament…..).

    Perhaps it’s also partly a generational thing. I got into cricket through the 1975 WC and for much of my childhood Sunday League games and the big one-day finals were watchable on TV (before VCRs being on the weekend was a major issue outside school holidays). I can remember finals like the Northants-Derby classic as well as most Tests. I wanted Hampshire to get to a one-day final more than win the championship (perhaps because we’d won the latter twice and kept choking in SFs). My relationship with the domestic one-day final broke down with the Lancs-Essex game when Glen Chapple took five-for-zip. Conditions were so ridiculous I drew the conclusion that if the authorities couldn’t be bothered then neither could I. I can understand that those who grew up with that and England’s WC disasters as their formative one-day experiences might have struggled to develop much fondness for the format (especially when England started being noticeably better in Tests). The answer though has to be to make English one-day cricket better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Arron Wright November 15, 2015 / 8:15 pm

      Derek Randall hitting 16 off 5 balls and then getting out to the last ball of the match with 2 to win (1985 NatWest final) was quite the childhood trauma for a Notts lad!

      Bloody E***x. Even Eddie Hemmings in 89 never quite made up for that one.

      Like

    • Mark November 15, 2015 / 8:35 pm

      In the 1970s and early 80s county cricket was choc a block with top world class players. As a Hampshire supporter you would have had the likes of Gordon Greenage, and Barry Richards. You had the likes of Viv Richards and Joel Garner at Somerset. Michael Holding, and Clive Lloyd up at Lanacshire. Richard Halee and Clive Rice at Nottingham. County cricket bares no relation to what it was then.

      Also, when ODI cricket first came in there was a snobbish superiority because England had a lot off control of the product. The 1975 ,1979 and 1983 World cups were all held in England. In Australia Packer had created is own version with the best players. India winning in 1983 opened up their interest in ODI cricket. Up till then they showed little interest.

      You can’t turn the clock back. We had our moment in the sun, the world moves on and certainly the money has moved elsewhere and so has the talent.

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  5. Rohan November 15, 2015 / 9:08 pm

    Maybe people don’t care as much because often there are more ODI games and T20s in a series between 2 teams, than there are tests. Especially now as only England, Australia and India have protected 5 test status. Look at England’s current tour in the UAE, 3 tests, but 7 ODIs/T20s. They are so many and follow on from each other so quickly (although back to back tests has changed this somewhat), that it’s easy for people to be ambivalent about a result as in a day or 2 your team has another crack at it. Maybe it’s a reflection of Society and Culture, a thro away mentality?

    Great articles Dmitri, really enjoyed both efforts on Lord Brocket. I do care about ODI cricket and was chuffed when we won the T20 world title, I would love it if we were to win the ODI World Cup. After all, what is there that is anywhere near equivalent in test cricket…….

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    • greyblazer November 15, 2015 / 9:28 pm

      I think the answer is to ringfence tests, they are the ultimate form of the game.
      Play odi’s and T20’s before on a points basis, a mini series

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  6. SimonH November 15, 2015 / 9:26 pm

    Some more ‘good journalism’:

    “Whether Roy goes on to be a big success at Test level like Pietersen and Sangakkara remains to be seen but there are influential figures within the England set-up who believe he could bat at five in the ultimate form of the game”.

    Newman manages to mention Pietersen a few times here without any snark. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing as more that Pietersen is seen as about as relevant to England’s present or future as Walter Hammond.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-3319358/Kevin-Pieterson-s-Surrey-protege-Jason-Roy-England-s-new-destructive-one-day-star-future-test-side.html

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    • Mark November 15, 2015 / 10:04 pm

      Perhaps he is implying that KP was seen as just a hit and hope merchant when he came into the England ODI team ,and then surprised people by becoming successful.

      I think it’s a bit revisionist history. KP burst onto the scene with those hundreds in front of very hostile South African fans. He was fast tracked into the England test team very quickly.

      Anyway, he can’t come in at Number 5. There are no middle order vacancies. Hasn’t Newman read his own script?

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  7. metatone November 15, 2015 / 9:58 pm

    One reason T20s & ODIs are well attended is that they can be a meaningful day out.
    If you like cricket, but can’t afford to watch a whole Test, they are the best chance to see some top-class cricket live and see your side bowl/bat.

    Do people care beyond the day? Sort of not, but that’s partly because of scattergun scheduling and partly because we have been so bad for so long that caring is a ticket to misery. And we get enough of that from the Test team…

    They do care more about the World Cups. But that’s the same with international football too. We don’t care about random matches, we care about qualification and then performance at the World Cup & European Championship. (If there were more teams in cricket, there might be some caring about a regional competition there too.)

    But like you, I care less about England losing or winning than ever.
    Part of it is the “Outside Cricket” but part of it is that I won’t give Rupert Murdoch money. So I don’t see much of England playing.

    On something else that caught my eye:

    I first understood the morning advantage in the September County Final when I was about 10. (So about 1985.) It seemed to sum up everything that was wrong with English cricket. “Fair play” only not really. (Recall, I was a brown boy with a funny name and with an elbow that doesn’t straighten properly. You can imagine how that went over at the local club.)

    I count it as a signal of how we still haven’t actually improved the admin of the game that it’s still set up that way…

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  8. "IronBalls" McGinty November 16, 2015 / 10:31 am

    Care? Bloody care??….I’ve had a sabbatical because I’ve been completely pissed off with everything ECB! Why? Because I care, thats why, and them bloody greedy morons have destroyed that care..well, nearly! I got a bit excited over the NZ series, then lost it over the Ashes. I listened to a fair bit of the Pakistan series, and started to get a bit of my care back…but..at the end of the day it’s all about the money isn’t it? “Prioritising”?? All that means is the hope we don’t have a complete clusterfuck during the CT and WC! How (financially) embarrassing would that be? There’ll be no bugger watching it anyway, so who cares? Certainly not the ECB! I always thought “care” was a two way street?

    Liked by 1 person

      • "IronBalls" McGinty November 16, 2015 / 1:31 pm

        Thanks LCL. It’s a hard road walking back from the depths of indifference….you know what I mean!

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  9. BigKev67 November 16, 2015 / 12:01 pm

    To some extent I can understand Strauss saying what he does about ODI cricket. We got humiliated in the World Cup and he had to say something. And I don’t doubt that he means it. But to me, the whole rationale of him talking about “separate sides” is to protect the primacy of our Test side – only send the ODI specialists to the IPL, don’t burn out the Test players etc etc.
    I freely admit that I watch ODI’s (because any cricket is better than none) – but I’ve forgotten most of them within 5 minutes of them ending. I am entertained – but I’m not remotely invested. I do love the spectacle of Day/Night ODI’s at the MCG so that helps.
    The World Cup is a little different – that’s one time when I’ll be genuinely invested. But even that could change if ODI’s don’t change from the glorified exercise in bowler killing that they are becoming. I’m on record as stating that the first ODI to feature a side scoring 500 will be the last one that I watch. That’s not cricket – that’s seal clubbing, and it’s of no interest to me.
    But the whole of sport is changing. Why would anyone outside the Big 4 be invested in the Premier League title? No one outside that clique has any chance of winning it. I’m invested in my club – but I no longer care much about the Premier League as a whole. It’s almost irrelevant to me because it’s so long since my club has been involved in the title race.
    Sadly in both cricket and football, modern tastes seem to be moving away from what I value. That’s unfortunate, but I absolutely cannot manufacture interest where none exists. I’ve transferred much of the love I once had for football to Aussie Rules – and I’d much rather watch a baseball game than a T20. So be it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LordCanisLupus November 16, 2015 / 12:12 pm

      A post written in your honour, squire as it was your tweets from before the World Cup in my mind. You were consistent with your comments and they did strike a chord.

      Cheers. Thinking of a round up of the two posts later, combining it with me modern sport whinge from a week or so ago.

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      • BigKev67 November 16, 2015 / 3:56 pm

        Cheers Dmitri. I do remember those Twitter conversations – I’m glad they spawned such a thoughtful piece. I very much enjoyed (and totally agreed with) your piece on modern sport and I’d look forward to any tie-in.
        In terms of expectations for English fans, even I think the World Cup has to be prioritised. Obviously you can’t do that six months out (as we discovered last time) – it should start now with a view to peaking in 2019. But a focus on that tournament should be driving who we select right now, who we rest and when.The individual series between now and then should (IMO) very much be seen as part of that larger plan. That’s in contrast to Test Match cricket where the object should be to try and win every series and pick the best side to do that.
        The tough part is going to be managing any dual-format players (Root, Stokes, Buttler etc) to avoid burn out – but even then the 2019 WC can provide a guide. We should try and make sure they’re playing in as many ODI’s in England for example, while maybe resting them for an ODI series in India that is less relevant to 2019. The ODI specialists obviously would play everywhere, including the Big Bash and/or IPL if schedules permitted.
        That’s how I would walk the line between Test Match and One Day cricket. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely more of an art than a science, but the schedule dictates that those sorts of decisions will need to be made.

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  10. Benny November 16, 2015 / 1:48 pm

    I watch cricket because I enjoy/am absorbed by skillful players playing demanding and special sport. Most unforgettable memories are 1981 and 2005. Love the great contests – Athers v Donald, May &Cowdrey v Ramadhin, Kp v Warne – too many to list.

    Like Bigkev I watch ODI’s – it’s still cricket and often has the top players demonstrating top skills. However, I have no unforgettable memories. There’ll always be another one along in a minute.

    I’m enjoying the Current ODI in UAE because I want to see Roy, Hales and Taylor do what they do well and hopefully become top stars. I can’t see me attending another international of any format, mostly because of the cost. I shall certainly be watching live county matches next season – nothing compares with the live occasion. Always a chance to see Read, Tresco, Sanga, Foster, Wright, Monty(?) etc in action

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  11. Zephirine November 16, 2015 / 6:40 pm

    I like one-day cricket, so there. Not to go all Ed Smith on y’all, but I find that its progression across a day is rather satisfying and fits with cricket’s particular and originally rural nature of being subject to weather, light, humidity and the state of a patch of ground, and played with willowy and leathery implements (albeit in lurid technofibre clothes). A day’s play.

    More to the point is that like all other kinds of cricket, one-day contests are great to watch when played well, as they increasingly are. (Remember when it was accepted wisdom that the middle overs of a 50-over game would consist of nothing happening?)

    I don’t quite get the idea that ODIs don’t matter. When England won the one-day series in 2007 after being whitewashed in the Tests, I don’t remember anybody saying it didn’t matter, it was only ODIs.

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  12. Sean B November 16, 2015 / 6:41 pm

    An interesting piece and part of one of the major conundrums affecting world cricket at the moment. There is, I feel, an indifference to white ball cricket in England, partly stemming down to the regard that test cricket is held in and partly down to the fact that we’ve never been any good at it. However if you swap the coin with the sub-continent, many cricket fans over there would quite happily see the demise of the test game for more white ball international games and longer T20 tournaments such as IPL, BPL, Big Bash etc.

    Personally, I’ve never really been that taken by the white ball stuff and certainly can’t remember a time when I was seriously gutted about losing one of the games (the Champions Trophy in 2013 was as probably as close as it gets and I was hardly distraught); however I used to get absolutely hopping mad when we lost an important test or when our batting inevitably collapsed in a heap, thankfully Giles Clarke and friends have provided me with a sense of antipathy, so I don’t seem to get as annoyed with the team losing compared to those running the debacle.

    I don’t know whether Strauss actually means any of this stuff or whether it’s just good sound bites and PR for the press? If he does, then I have no idea how he is going to fix it. We play so much domestic and international cricket, that the white ball game always seems to be the lumpy custard at the end of a good meal (you feel obligated to be polite and have a couple of spoonfuls, but in reality you wish someone would take it away). Add in the fact that the ODI games sell at the same price roughly as the Tests, which is far my preferred format, then it means that there is no real chance in me investing any real time or money into it, hence why I haven’t been to a 50 over game since Bristol 2005!

    An interesting comparison must surely be made with the struggles going on in the West Indies, who have seen their playing staff decimated by the T20 competitions and hence can hardly cobble together a side, let alone a competitive one. Bottom line is, that until the Boards stop flogging their players, both internationally and domestically and create sensible Windows whereby everyone can invest their skills in white ball cricket, then the success will come to those countries who value the White ball game over the red ball game. Me personally, I’ll continue to cheer in surprise when England win a white ball game and be very meh, when we inevitably lose, especially looking forward to the award T20 finals. You can’t have your cake and eat it, this time Mr Strauss…..

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