Herd the Golden Geese

England players got a break over Christmas. For the Test only players, that break is a substantial one, for there won’t be another until July. Whatever the outcome of Alastair Cook’s discussions with the Director, Cricket (funny how the absurdity of that title never wanes) he and the others who aren’t in the short form teams will welcome the chance to rest and recharge over the coming months. Yet there are plenty of players who turn out for England in every variety of the game, and although there has been little comment beyond Cook’s ‘I don’t choose the schedule’ at the end of the Indian Test series , the next 15 months is quite simply barking mad. 

On Sunday begins a series of 3 ODIs in India, followed by 3 T20 internationals. That is actually reasonably sensible, as opposed to the usual five 50 over matches, but from there it starts to head downhill. 

After finishing that tour there is a one month break before heading to the West Indies for 3 more ODIs in little more than a week, then it’s back to England for the build up to the English season. 

Any thoughts of playing four day cricket are pointless, for the first half of the summer is given over entirely to 50 over international matches. There are two very welcome games against Ireland, the first time England have hosted them, and then three more at the end of May against South Africa, presumably as warm ups for the Champions Trophy. 

Should England reach the final – not as unlikely a possibility as in some previous years – they will finish on the 18th June. Three days later they start a series of 3 T20s against South Africa (again – the ODIs pre-tourament clearly aren’t enough).

The kind, thoughtful people at the ECB have allowed 10 days between that and the start of the 1st Test, when the specialists are located from their secret base and those in every side turn their heads round the right way and try and focus on batting for more than ten overs. 

There are then four Tests in just over a month, and then a lengthy break of, oh 9 days before three more Tests against the West Indies at the same breakneck pace. 

Any thoughts that this will conclude the season are misplaced, for then there will be a T20 and five, yes five, ODIs to finish the English international summer in, er autumn. Proper autumn too, on the 29th September. There are clubs up and down the country who will finish their seasons earlier than that. 

With the first Ashes Test taking place on the 23rd November, England will probably arrive at the beginning of the month. Players, note down October in your diaries and mark it ‘time to actually live’. 

The Ashes schedule is fairly similar to those of previous tours – given the Melbourne and Sydney Tests being fixed in the calendar not even the ECB and CA could squeeze in any more – and so they wait until the Tests are concluded before gleefully ensuring extra cash can be generated. 

Since five ODIs aren’t enough, they then arranged a Tri-Series of T20s so there’ll be travelling to New Zealand too. That’s fortunate because when the Tri-Series finishes in late February, England are already there for the tour of New Zealand due to start that month and comprising two Tests, five ODIs and a T20. It’s due to finish in April, which is of course absolutely perfect as they’ll be able to fly home just in time for the scheduled series against Pakistan in May before the vitally important five ODIs against Australia before India arrive. 

Players are lucky to be in the position of being paid for playing the game they love. And plenty will say that they should just get on with it. To a point that’s right, for few will be sympathetic to them in terms of their absolute workload compared to the archetypal man down the pit. Yet that’s not the point. Overloading players means they cannot possibly perform at their best, particularly against opposition not compelled to follow such ludicrously packed itineraries over the entire year – or in this case two years. Furthermore, the potential for injuries is clearly going to go up dramatically, as is burnout. 

For the likes of Stokes, Root, Woakes, Bairstow, Moeen and potentially others, there’s simply no way they can do this. They’ll break. The alternative is to ensure they have time off built in, and that’s possible. But they’ll need more than just a few days and if England aren’t going out with their best teams because the players are on their knees needing a rest, then it devalues the whole idea of international cricket anyway. 

2016 was held up as an example of a ridiculously compressed schedule with too much cricket. Clearly the ECB didn’t see this as a criticism, more as a challenge. 

They’ve certainly met it head on.