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Will the ECB finally do something now they have driven their greatest asset out of the game?

by Justin Rourke

The sad news of Ben Stokes needing to take a rest to look after his mental health broke this week. I sincerely wish Ben all the best.

The ECB/England cricket quotes grate on me, they are very quick to tell us how they are looking after the players and how important mental health is, but this goes out the window when they set the money making schedule. I work in finance and accounting, I understand the realities of running a business and that it needs to make money, but it also needs to balance this with the welfare of its most precious commodity… the players.

The ECB will blame Covid for the additional pressure, but that is avoiding the real issues. They are burning their players out. The cynical will say ‘but they play the IPL’ and I get that argument, but if I had the chance to earn 10 years wages in 8/12 weeks I’d jump at it.

The simple reality is that England’s men play too much cricket and lots of it is poor in quality, due to the lack of context, poor opposition, rested players and lack of time between games. Ironically, the Women’s game is crying out for more game time, especially in the longer format.

To spend the money on reinventing the wheel with The Hundred feels irresponsible, it is creating another set of men’s games that are simply not needed. I don’t mind the franchises (with the caveat that both the North East and South West need a franchise, both bring so much to English Cricket). I love what it has done for the Women’s game, but in reality it should have been a remodel of the Vitality Blast not a new tournament. That could encompass franchises (10) and the women’s games just the same.

The (men’s) schedule needs less cricket and more focus, not just the domestic game but international too. There are so many utterly pointless T20 series and even to some extent 50 over games that players are flying left, right and centre with no rest or practice time. England will head into a home test series next week with none of the squad having played a competitive first class match in weeks. That is a criminal miss use of home advantage.

My solution would be to remove IT20 from the international schedule and have test and 50 over series running together with a points system across a full series. No random one off series or matches, no T20 freeing up time for rest and practice as well as allowing time for IPL, PSL, Big Bash etc.

KP will be shouted down for his franchise first class format, but I’m not sure he is so wrong. It’s tough but so is the reality. The international and domestic schedule should mirror each other.

Setting the schedule aside for a moment, we must address the impact that Ashley Giles and Chris Silverwood have had on this group of players. Both are widely thought to be good men, those I know in cricket stand by this. I am judging from the outside, and it is hard to understand why two such good men are at the root of so many issues with miss management of players. The list since they have run the team is long and worrying:

  • Ben Stokes – taking an indefinite break due to mental health issues.
  • Moeen Ali – took a break from test cricket for mental health
  • Dom Bess – I was truly shocked by how he was treated last winter.
  • Jofra Archer – played with injury, thrown under the bus to the media/public
  • Mark Wood – frequently picked on flat decks and then cast aside.
  • Jack Leach – criminally unselected repeatedly.
  • Matt Parkinson  – kept on tour all winter with no cricket (whilst others were flown around the world several times). Also taken to NZ and SA and then not played.
  • Jonny Bairstow – twice dropped into tests at no3 with no cricket or form.
  • Ollie Pope – asked to keep in a test as no reserve keeper was taken on a test tour.
  • Chris Woakes – player of the summer taken on tour to play no cricket last winter (or this summer).
  • James Bracey – picked out of position to do a job as a keeper, he was clearly not ready for.

I’m sure there are others I have not thought of, and that is not to say that all of these players were guaranteed to be a success. However, none were given the best platform to even try and succeed. The management of Bess and Bracey is so poor that I am not sure not sure they will ever recover. I hope they do, that will be a monumental achievement.

This is an unacceptably long list of players who have been mismanaged. They play far far too much cricket, much of it pointless and yet can’t rely on Giles and Silverwood to look after them.

This side is now heading into a series against India and Australia where they look likely to lose heavily. Root and Stokes should be at the peak of their powers but will be drained physically and emotionally.

As sad as Ben’s situation is, I can only hope this is the one that forces the ECB to look after its greatest asset – the players.

The men need less cricket domestically and internationally. The Women need more … it’s not rocket science.

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