So England are back, for the money element of the tour. Players have cut short their Big Bash contracts and flown over, and the cricketing world sighs and tries to muster up the slightest interest in affairs. It is always the case that if the ODIs are placed after the Tests they feel like an afterthought in terms of the itinerary, yet for England it’s all there is for the next six months in the run up to the Champions Trophy. Much of the domestic comment has centred around the return of Eoin Morgan as captain having elected not to go to Bangladesh, with the usual barbs aimed at him for that decision by those can often pick and choose their tours as journalists without anyone noticing or offering comment. More than one senior cricket correspondent has sent someone else to cover a series they didn’t fancy in the past.
Hales too returns to the side, with none of the criticism that Morgan received, but with the same degree of media pressure to perform having taken the same decision.
The ECB created and agreed an itinerary over the next 18 months that only a sadist could take satisfaction in, so it’s rather startling to see two warm up matches before the relatively short three ODI series (plus 3 T20s). Given the lack of anything approaching a warm up before the Test series – unless the Bangladesh Tests were considered so – it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Of course, at the same time there is the matter of Alastair Cook’s captaincy to be resolved. Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has a good record of calling things correctly in recent times and seems of the opinion that Cook will go. Equally, all the indications are that it is Cook’s decision, which remains a peculiar state of affairs for someone for whom captaincy has been anything but a natural skill. When the decision finally comes, it seems almost certain that the press coverage will be vaguely equivalent to that for a deceased monarch, and nothing else quite sums up the total disconnect between the ECB media corps and reality, to that created by talking about a captain in awed tones who has done nothing to warrant it. Some may love him, some may hate him, but by no objective measure can his tenure be called any kind of unqualified success. The adoration remains what it always has been – deeply strange. The difference in media approach to Cook and Morgan is all the more striking given that of the two captains, the latter has had much the better record over the last two years.
For the ODI series itself there are few surprises, the squad currently more or less picks itself, and the interest will be in seeing whether they cope with Indian conditions any better than their Test playing colleagues. In their own conditions India must be favourites, but England remain a threat to anyone in one day cricket. The question is whether anyone here will even notice. The Big Bash coverage has been mostly on BT Sports but with some matches on Channel 5. To date no viewing figures have been announced, but it has to be likely those numbers will be higher than anything the England team get locked away on subscription TV. In one sense, it is to be hoped they are, for it would at least demonstrate there’s an interest in the sport. If not, cricket really is doomed in Britain.
English cricket is in something of a holding pattern this week. Whatever happens, there’ll be a lot more to write about soon enough.