Domestic T20 windows are impossible

According to Cricinfo, the ICC are again considering putting windows into the international calendar for domestic T20 tournaments. This is ridiculous on the face of it; there is no way that any domestic event should take precedence over an international one and certainly not a domestic T20 event. Apparently the committee concluded that T20 can ‘add to the game as a whole’. That is blatantly untrue; the only thing domestic T20 has added to the game is money and even then only for India. I certainly don’t blame T20 for all or even most of the problems facing the Test game, there is literally nothing that it has added. If any domestic event should be given a window it is domestic first class competitions, but no one is asking for that because it would be ridiculous. The same applies to T20.

Even if there was a justification for putting a domestic event ahead of international ones, it is not feasible to carve out a window for every domestic T20 competition. This is especially true in the places that have well-defined seasons. Even if the English competition were reduced to four weeks again, it would be very difficult to fit that into the summer around all of the scheduled internationals. In Australia the current schedule of the Big Bash League would prevent the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests from being played either in Australia or South Africa. Presumably Cricket Australia would change the timing, but there is only so much of a cricket season available and the entire Australian summer overlaps with a time where at least one Test series is usually being played somewhere in the world. Even with the other counties where they can move their competitions, there are so many that even if they each only last a month (and right now most are longer than that) there is not enough time left on the calendar if each of them get their own window.

Of course, the league at which the notion of a window is really aimed is the IPL. But an IPL window, even if it was only for the IPL and not any of the other T20 leagues, is still not feasible. The IPL currently runs for about two months, from the beginning of April to the end of May and overlaps with the first two Tests of England’s summer. A quick glance at the history of the BCCI suggests they will be distinctly unwilling to compromise on the timing (or any other matter) and there isn’t enough time in the English calendar to wait until June to start the internationals. The only way for a window to work would be for England to cut some matches out of the international summer. This would be unacceptable to many and in particular I expect it would be unacceptable to Sky Sports. England already play two extra T20s in the summer because they sold the broadcast rights for them to Sky; I cannot imagine Sky agreeing to the ECB cutting down on fixtures. Even if the BCCI were to agree to bring the IPL forward to end before the English summer began then they are impacting (more than they are already) on the West Indies and New Zealand home seasons. The West Indies don’t have a well-defined season, but they still may have trouble moving their matches around and New Zealand would certainly have problems doing so.

No matter how much the administrators pretend that domestic T20 leagues are a good thing or even that international cricket can/should not fight them, there is simply not enough time in the calendar to give them all windows, or even just the IPL unless the leagues themselves are changed considerably and in most cases that looks very unlikely.

What can be done about India?

Yesterday it was revealed that not only were Sky making plans to cover the India v England Test series from home, the BBC had also been asked to pay an extra fee to get into the ground and now they might not cover the series at all.

Although it is good that neither Sky nor the BBC are giving in and that no one in England will be stuck with the ESPN STAR Sports commentary, not having TMS would be a tragedy. It is also a breathtakingly petty and spiteful move by the BCCI and their attitude makes one’s blood boil. It almost goes without saying now that the next time India tour England the ECB should treat the Indian broadcasters the same way or better yet, just refuse to let them in the ground full stop. This is in essence what the BCCI are doing already. I would love to see the ECB properly stand up to them and engage in a bit of tit-for-tat: sell them the rights, but then claim that the rights did not actually include entrance to the ground and close the door on them.

But this is just the latest in a much broader pattern of behaviour from the BCCI. It’s most notable in their stubborn and irrational refusal to allow the DRS to be adopted and in their imposition of their T20 schedule (both the IPL and ‘Champions’ League) on the rest of the world. The problem is not, or at least not primarily, that the BCCI have too much power. They do, but with the current structure of world cricket and the ICC it is almost inevitable that someone will have a disproportionate amount of power and influence. Right now it’s India. But the problem is that the BCCI use that power not only to secure their own interests, but to actively impose themselves on all other nations. There is no excuse whatsoever for their current behaviour with the broadcasting rights; it is simply a transparent attempt to use dodgy means to dictate terms to England.

The ECB, Sky and the BBC are not just rolling over and accepting this, which is good. As mentioned above, Sky and the BBC both refused to pay the exorbitant fees the BCCI demanded and the ECB have pulled the counties from the farcical ‘Champions’ League. But all are small matters to the BCCI and whilst they are all heartening they will have no long-term effect. Indeed, shutting the English broadcasters out of the grounds may be seen as a desirable outcome for the BCCI. The ECB need to then think more deeply about how to check the BCCI’s impositions. Obviously this is easier said than done and there is every chance that there is already discussion on this matter. The financial stakes are still much higher for England and the rest of the world than they are for India, but with India steadily becoming more dismissive of Test cricket that may start to change.

Until a better option comes along it looks like England, ideally in collaboration with the other established nations and particularly Australia, will have to simply continue to engage in tit-for-tat. And, of course, inflicting as many 0-4 series on India as possible!

Pietersen to return

In the first of two bits of cricket news to come out today, it was revealed that Kevin Pietersen had completed his reintegration process and had been added to the squad to tour India. I said the other day that this was something the ECB needed to get sorted as soon as possible and fortunately they have done just that. Apparently all the reintegration that was needed was for him to talk to Flower, Cook and a few senior members of the side.

Despite my misgivings over Pietersen’s actions and his poor results in the subcontinent I do think this is a good thing. The matter can now be laid to rest and hopefully Pietersen will have learnt to think a bit before he speaks and acts. The ECB appear to have got all they wanted out of the situation with Pietersen dropping his demands to play in the full IPL and agreeing to play both forms of pyjama cricket and it cannot be argued that they did so in a way which hurt the team as Pietersen only missed one Test. They have clearly acted in the best interests of English cricket in the long term and should be applauded for their success.

Pietersen will presumably then be in the playing XI for the first Test, so I expect it will be back to him at four with Bell at five and I would hope Prior at six. With Bell likely to miss the second Test that would give an opportunity to one of the younger players in the squad as well.

A suggestion for the ECB

Last night after watching the Orioles beat the Yankees in Game Two of the ALDS, I went to the Cricket Australia website and watched part of a Sheffield Shield match between South Australia and Tasmania. There was no commentary, no graphics and not even any sound. Between overs the camera panned to the scoreboard to keep viewers up-to-date. I don’t really have a horse in the Sheffield Shield, though I am slightly partial to South Australia (who are therefore on the wrong end of a hammering, of course), but I very much enjoyed watching. It’s not that far from summer here and certainly not the true depths of winter yet, but nonetheless it has been a month since the County Championship ended and about the same length of time since anyone played a Test. It was very nice to see proper, red ball cricket and there is always something delightful about domestic first-class matches regardless of the country.

But I do prefer the County Championship to the other first-class competitions and what would really be nice is if the ECB would stream matches in the same way. I know they already have fixed cameras at the grounds for their highlight pieces, so surely they could just have a live stream? I know Sky televise a couple of matches a season, but I would like to see the ECB work out a rights deal such that they could stream matches when Sky were not showing anything. I don’t know the costs, but I don’t expect it is too expensive to have just a single camera operator and although I would prefer it to be free I would actually pay a small amount to watch.

I suspect it is pretty low on the ECB’s radar and rightly so. But I would love to consistently be able to watch the County Championship live and especially Lancashire.

A triumph for the ECB

I’ve been busy over ht past couple of days, but now that I have had time to see the full extent of the most recent news about Kevin Pietersen I note that it looks very good. Pietersen seems to have finally realised that his position was untenable and that if he wanted to play for England (and by extension command a high price at various T20 events) he was going to have to bend. Anyone who had noted that he was going up against an unhappy Andy Flower could have probably told him that a month ago, but never mind.

The deal agreed upon is a very good one for both parties. The ECB have very rightly not conceded any of the important ground and demanded (and received) a real apology from Pietersen, not something via his agent. I kept seeing over the last weeks complaints that the ECB were making him apologise more than once, but that isn’t true. He never issued a public apology; his agent did most recently, but that is not the same. Before that, in his YouTube video, Pietersen had never actually uttered any sort of apology. He avoided it as skilfully as a seasoned politician. The ECB were quite right to make Pietersen himself apologise and apologise properly. Mike Selvey described the whole affair brilliantly in the Guardian. Pietersen can now work on regaining the trust of his teammates and demonstrate that he really is fully committed to play for England, something which has been conspicuous by its absence in Pietersen’s actions over the past few months.

The ECB were actually quite lenient, which should go some way to placating those who have been unfairly criticising them over the past few weeks. They are allowing Pietersen to play in the Champions League during his reintegration process which is a surprising show of reconciliation. They are also allowing him to come back for the tour of India, at least on a trial basis, rather than making him wait for the series against New Zealand. (As I have set out before, he is of little use in the sub-continent. But this is a good show of leniency by the ECB and it is for the best not to drag the matter out longer than need be.) Pietersen can certainly have no cause for complaints with the deal, now he must hold up his end and work his way back into the England fold.

It is good for all concerned that this episode seems to be nearing a conclusion. Although there has been a lot of ire directed at the ECB and Flower, it is Pietersen’s fault and Pietersen’s fault alone that it has taken this long. He has finally seen some sense and finally realised that he must abandon his arrogance and ego which have been the source of all these problems. Hopefully now he can complete his penance and return to a stronger and more unified England team. Unfortunately, given Pietersen’s history I would not be surprised if he did or said something stupid to throw everything back into the air.

Well done the counties!

George Dobell reports in Cricinfo today that the counties are expected to reaffirm their commitment to Championship cricket and shun the farce of the T20 Champions League. This can only be a good thing. The Champions League is essentially an arm of the IPL and shares the same goals: to make money for the BCCI. The tournament has always been heavily weighted toward the Indian teams and very much against the English ones. The English teams would have better odds of winning the prize money at a casino. There was no reason for English teams to ever take part; for all the talk of it being allegedly an international tournament and the players benefiting from the supposedly higher level of play, the fact is still that it is a dressed up club competition. There is no reason to suggest that the actual standard is at all higher than it is in England just because there is more light and sound associated with it. It is the same fallacy that leads people to the mistaken impression that the IPL has some legitimacy.

There is also the longstanding problem that the Champions League conflicts with the end of the County Championship. This could be avoided if those in charge of the tournament bothered, but they don’t and that should be no surprise. The BCCI have made it very clear in the past that they care nothing for the County Championship and whilst I can understand that as it isn’t their competition, they have also shown their usual unwillingness to compromise on any matter. It is a stance we have seen all across the politics of cricket for years now. These past two years the ECB have scheduled the County Championship ridiculously early to allow the counties to play in the Champions League and it has really come back to hurt them. Quite rightly it is time that the ECB stopped catering to those who will not return the favour. If the BCCI ever decide that they want English teams in the tournament they can push it back by a week or two. Until then they can play their own weighted game without the counties.

Some other good things appear to be coming are an extended period of domestic T20 and a return to fifty over List A cricket. Although there are things I like about the T20 window, I’ve never been too fond of it as it really disrupts the momentum of the Championship and then there is far too long before the quarter-finals and Finals Day. A full season of T20 on weekends is a much better idea. With regard to fifty over cricket, I do understand the concerns of the counties and actually prefer listening to forty over matches. But I would rather have a fifty over competition to match that of international cricket.

I’m quite pleased about this news overall. After all the gloom of the Morgan Report last winter it seems that everyone has seen sense about the importance of a 16 match Championship and actually look to be making improvements to the structure rather than semi-random deletions. Common sense has been a rare beast in the governance of cricket recently; finally we are seeing a good example of it.

Probably not the end of the KP saga

Over the weekend, Kevin Pietersen has released a video in which he completely backed down from his demands to retire from ODI cricket and play a full IPL. But he never apologised for any of his actions and he never mentioned textgate. The selectors gave him six hours to do so and when he either did or could not they dropped him anyway.

It was the right thing to do. As good as it was for Pietersen to back down from his demands, the manner in which he did so was not a matter that suggested he was trying to bring about an end to the affair. If he wanted to end things he could have said all of that directly to the ECB and also apologised for his behaviour. Instead he tried to garner public sympathy whilst simultaneously saying ‘your move’ to the ECB. I do think he deserves credit for dropping his ridiculous demands, but this was not even vaguely the right way to do it and he abjectly failed to address any of the other important issues. The ECB, for all their faults in this saga, did the right thing by telling him what he still needed to do and giving him an extra six hours in which to do so. As he did not, they were quite correct to still drop him.

The issue seems to primarily be the texts Pietersen sent to his friends in the South African dressing room and whether or not they were derogatory about Strauss and Flower. There can now be little doubt that they were and Pietersen seems absolutely incapable of actually apologising for them, or even trying to explain them. This is not, contrary to what a lot of people are saying, a matter of someone simply having a whinge to a friend about their boss. Not only was the friend in the opposition dressing room, one’s captain is not the same as one’s boss. Cricket is a team sport; it is not the same as an office environment. It is very important for the team that players show respect to their captain in a way that simply does not exist in most workplaces. Pietersen’s snub of Strauss at the press conference (which he implied was a mistake, but for which he did not apologise) and the texts he send to the opposition players may be acceptable in a standard workplace, but they are not acceptable in a dressing room. The eleven who take the field must play as a team and part of that is showing respect to the captain. Pietersen seems unable to understand that and looking at his history, never has. This is also why the people who ask why Swann was not dropped for the comments he make about Pietersen in his book or whether Strauss had said anything about Pietersen during the saga are missing the point. Pietersen isn’t the captain; Strauss is. That’s not to say they management or other players ought to be dismissive of anyone who is not the captain, but that it is a different situation. There are different rules and protocols to be observed and quite rightly. Unless Pietersen admits that his behaviour was not acceptable and actually apologises (and to the ECB, Flower and Strauss instead of the media this time) he should not be picked.

England will be without Pietersen for the Lord’s Test and contrary to a fairly popular view they most certainly can still win. Pietersen is a very good player, but he is not superman. He has a Test average under fifty which is less than Jonathan Trott and barely higher than Alastair Cook. He played a match winning innings at Colombo earlier this year, but he also cost England good positions in Abu Dhabi and at the Oval. There is no guarantee at all that he would have made a good score at Lord’s instead of getting out to a stupid shot after getting set; he does the latter with regularity. The last time England played without KP was in a must-win Test against major opposition at the Oval in 2009. England won by 197 runs. He is an asset, but he is not the only reason England win or even the main reason that England win. To say that England cannot win without Pietersen is utter lunacy.

I don’t think this is the end of the saga, however. I expect it will continue to rumble on in some form almost no matter what happens. Pietersen’s history suggests that even if he is allowed back in the future he will still do or say something at some point. In the immediate future though, there is the matter of whether he and the ECB can find enough common ground to get him to sign a new central contract. He has made this easier with his climbdown, but he will still need to answer for the texts he sent, on feels. But there is quite a bit of time left until the contracts are handed out and there is every chance that he will find his way back into the good graces of the ECB before then. I would not say it’s likely, but there is still a chance he could play against India in December. Either that, or we can expect the tour to be dominated by coverage of how Pietersen is playing in the Big Bash League instead.

Time for KP to go?

Kevin Pietersen’s feud with the ECB had been subtly simmering in the lead up to the Headingley Test and when he made 149 and took four wickets one expects it was on everyone’s mind at some level. But if not Pietersen quickly dragged it to the forefront with a press conference where, after refusing to wait for his captain, he stated that Lord’s may be his last Test. He has since added fuel to the fire by suggesting that one of his teammates is behind a Twitter parody of him. Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of that accusation (and it is ‘otherwise’) matters between Pietersen and the ECB certainly seem to be coming to a head and there is now the possibility that Lord’s won’t be his last Test, but that Headingley already was.

A lot has been made in the media and elsewhere about what the ECB ought to do. There are many suggesting that the ECB need to compromise with Pietersen, stating that having him leave the England team benefits no-one. That is all disputable and I will come back to it later, but what is clear is that the ECB have not handled the situation terribly well. I wrote some time ago why I thought they ought to have been more flexible about letting Pietersen retire from only ODIs. Since then there has been the revelation about KP wanting to miss Tests to play in the IPL that was leaked to the media. But the interesting thing is that it was leaked. Pietersen never said anything publicly and there is a reasonable suggestion that it was leaked in a (successful) attempt to discredit him. There is a strong suggestion that the ECB higher-ups are not merely not interested in compromise but are actively waging a PR war against Pietersen. Independent of anything else, this is simply not right and should stop immediately.

But Pietersen is far from blameless. His stated need to spend more time with his family and his desire to play a full season of the IPL (and now an interest in the Big Bash League as well) are mutually exclusive unless he meant that he has a second family in Dehli with whom he wants to spend more time. He claims that money is not his motivation and I do actually believe that, at least to an extent. But his motivations do not seem to be what he says they are either; it does not add up. He claims that there are ‘many issues’ to be addressed and it seems a fair bet that most of them revolve around Pietersen and his ego. The fact that he not only talked about how much the spectators want to see him play (so he wants to deny them that when it is inconvenient for him, apparently) and how it is hard to be him are telling. Part of the captaincy saga at the end of 2008 was that he wanted Andy Flower, then Peter Moores assistant, out as well. There is every chance that he is still unhappy over his failure.

I think in the end that the ECB need to take a hard stance with Pietersen. The argument that most employers would find a compromise for such an important performer does not hold weight for me. Not only is the spectator environment of a cricket team inherently unlike any other work environment, how many organisations of any type would respond positively to a request to miss two big meetings in order to do a bit of work for a high paying competitor? For all the faults of the ECB, Pietersen is being inherently unreasonable. I have never heard anyone who suggests that the ECB compromise with Pietersen actually suggest what sort of compromise could be reached; the implication often seems to be that the ECB should not compromise but cave into Pietersen’s demands. If his primary demand is to only retire from ODIs then something could probably be negotiated, but by definition Pietersen would have to make concessions as well. There can be no compromise on the issue of playing the whole IPL, in both the figurative sense that the ECB will (rightly) not budge and in the literal sense that there is no middle ground to be had. Either he plays in the whole tournament as he wants or, as is the case now, he plays in only part of it; there is no halfway between them. And as for the other issues, it is impossible to know if any compromise on them could be reached without knowing what they are. It is hard to imagine much that could be given to him without it being unfairly special treatment though. And once again, the nature of compromise would demand that KP budge from his position as well. It’s all well and good to say that the ECB should negotiate with him, but it is not that simple.

There is also the issue of team unity to be considered. Pietersen’s belief that one of his teammates is behind the Twitter parody of him is insane and paranoid on the face of it, there were Tweets sent whilst all of his teammates and the rather solid alibi of being in the field amongst other things, but it does show that there are dressing room problems. Pietersen also hinted at some in the press conference on Monday. If his teammates already dislike him, that is all the more reason for the ECB not to give him special treatment. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is a good reason for the ECB not to compromise with him at all. Dressing room unity is important and it is something at which Strauss and Flower have worked hard in the wake of the captaincy saga. But Pietersen has never really been able to fit in properly. He left Natal in a huff for England and he left Nottinghamshire by having his kit thrown off the balcony. His brief time as England captain was marked mostly by suggestions of dressing room cliques and he left Hampshire under a bit of a cloud as well. The attitude that he showed to his captain in his press conference was simply unacceptable. The other members of England’s dressing room do not seem to have any problem fitting in despite being a rather diverse bunch, so this problem seems to stem entirely from Pietersen. There is an easy solution to it.

I would not play Pietersen at Lord’s. I would not give him a swan song; I would not give him one last chance to impress. What started as a reasonable argument about workload has descended into irrationality, egotism and paranoia. There is no reason for the ECB to bend over to make accommodations for a player who only deigns to perform a few times a year and who is a disruptive influence on the dressing room throughout. No player, however good, is irreplaceable and no player is bigger than the team. If Pietersen cannot comprehend that then he must go and go immediately.

Headingley, day five: match drawn

I said yesterday the match would be drawn and so it was. But that would be too easy and what should have been the least interesting day of the match (and for the first session made it look absolutely certain to be) ended up the most exciting. England went out in the morning looking to instigate a quick collapse. They had a decent go, the bowling was good, but South Africa really had the rub of the green with possible catches evading fielders and the ball beating the bat entirely. They also came off for rain a couple of times and it was not until a couple of overs before a late lunch that England finally shifted South Africa’s makeshift opening partnership. Incredibly, it was Kevin Pietersen to Jacques Rudolph again. Pietersen bowled four balls to Rudolph in the match and dismissed him twice.

A few days ago, I said that I thought England had made the right call by bowling four seamers as Swann had not bowled well at Headingley and there was not any turn on the first four days. Today, however, there was turn and Pietersen found it. Whilst I still do see the logic of the decision, it is now clear that it was indeed the wrong one. Pietersen got good turn, good bounce and three wickets in the innings. The only caveat to those wickets was that one of them, the dismissal of Smith, was very questionable and Amla’s dismissal was nothing whatsoever to do with spin as he tamely hit a full toss straight to cover. The Smith dismissal was an interesting one as he was given out caught at short leg and discussed it with his partner before deciding to review it. The replay showed that he had hit his boot, but the actual view of where the ball either did or did not hit the bat was obscured by James Taylor. If one was to make a decision based off that alone one would say not out, but there was certainly not enough evidence to overturn the umpire’s call of out and so it stayed. To his credit, Smith took the decision with good grace.

That dismissal cost South Africa in an odd way later though as it meant that South Africa were out of reviews. This was very unlucky for South Africa as I have seen teams get the review back in similar situations in the past and I am not entirely sure why South Africa did not. When Broad then trapped AB de Villiers lbw, South Africa could not review and the replay showed that the ball was sliding down leg. That said, it looked plumb live and there is actually every chance it would not have been reviewed. Unfortunately we won’t ever know, but regardless of whether or not it would have been reviewed it was a poor decision by the umpire which South Africa did not have the opportunity to correct.

This was the start of a fearsome spell by Stuart Broad that very much livened up the match. He had previously started to bowl too short again, but here he remembered to pitch the ball up and try to hit the stumps and he was rewarded. De Villiers may have got a poor decision, but he was still entirely beaten by the delivery and ended up playing all around a fairly straight one. JP Duminy was then trapped lbw (correctly this time) to a very similarly full and straight delivery that he played poorly. A few overs later, Vernon Philander departed to one that had nipped back and hit him in front of off. This is what Broad does when he is bowling at his best and it is so important for England that he remembers to do so. Only once he establishes that danger for the batsmen can he use the short ball to any effect, as he subsequently did to get rid of Kallis. Broad finished with an excellent and well deserved five-fer.

Broad’s heroics led to the best part of the day and possibly the match: Smith and Strauss, two of the most defensive captains in world cricket, had a mini contest to see which one could grab some sort of initiative and mental edge over the other heading into the Lord’s Test. Smith declared with nine down in a purely symbolic gesture (Tahir is very much a number eleven) but the gesture was clear. In response, Strauss juggled the England batting order and sent Kevin Pietersen out to open the run chase. Despite this, however, neither side still really went all out for it. South Africa had a reasonably attacking field, but only about the standard for the start of an innings and England, despite being up with or close to the required rate for a long period still sent Trott in at number four. Trott is a good ODI batsman, and actually was scoring at over a run a ball for the start of his innings, but it was still more of a defensive move than anything else. England’s entire approach actually seemed quite muddled. Prior, a very attacking option, came in after Trott and it was only when he was finally out that England stopped going for it. Taylor and Broad never got to bat at all though. As nice as it was to see England try to win the match, the execution was poor and one was left with the impression that England could have come a lot closer.

In a way, England have already lost the series. Whilst they can still get out with a draw, their excellent home series winning streak (seven consecutive home series won, dating back to the last time South Africa toured) is over and all they can do is try to make it a less impressive unbeaten streak. They will also still have not managed to beat South Africa and put to rest the discussion of which side is better. They have only themselves to blame for this; not entirely because of the actual results (though obviously that as well) but because the series is only three Tests. This is always a possibility of a three Test series; the ECB could have and should have scheduled another Test and now it will cost them.

Poor preparation

With now exactly two weeks before the start of the abbreviated series against South Africa, I have been thinking about scheduling again. Obviously I am cross and have been for some time that the series is only three matches. Even without questioning the ECB’s rationale in playing five ODIs against Australia (though it is a very foolish rationale) the scheduling is poor.

That the series against South Africa is too short is not in doubt. It is the number one side in the world playing the number two side with the winner getting the top spot. To play it only over three matches is lunacy; it ought to be at least four. What is maddening is that the schedule could have easily accommodated a full length Test series and the ECB’s desired ODIs. Even if there were no way to squeeze in seven Tests and 13 ODIs (and the only reason that there is not is because of the World T20 and even then it’s close) then the arrangement could have and should have been different. For one thing, there was no need for a third Test against the West Indies. Whilst no one could have predicted so far ahead of time that it would have been a washout anyway, almost everyone managed to predict that it was going to be a dead rubber. I am no fan of two Test series, but in this case it would have been very much the lesser of two evils. A far better option, however, would have been to simply reduce the number of ODIs being played against South Africa and the West Indies. We are playing a combined eight matches against them, it would have been very easy to cut out three and play a usual seven Test/ten ODI summer.

Those solutions assume we have to play those five ODIs against Australia this summer for the ECB to accomplish its goal of preparing England for the World Cup, but that is not even true. These ODIs are actually supposed to be more for Australia’s benefit than England’s; it is allowing them to prepare for the Champions Trophy in reciprocation for England playing in Australia ahead of the World Cup. But the Champions Trophy is next year and we are playing the normal Ashes related ODIs against Australia then anyway. Surely Australia would prepare better by simply having those ODIs moved in front of the Champions Trophy, just as England’s matches in Oz will immediately precede the World Cup. This seems like a solution that would not only allow us to play four (or five) Tests against South Africa like we ought to, but also to allow the ECB to get their desired pre-World Cup preparation and actually improve Australia’s pre-Champions Trophy preparation.

It is, of course, a bit late to be complaining about fixtures that were set over a year ago, but the reason I bring it up is because I think England may not only have robbed the fans of a good series, but also put themselves at a bit of a disadvantage by playing so much white ball cricket ahead of an important Test series. England will go into the first Test against South Africa with many of their players having played seven limited overs matches and no significant red ball cricket since the end of the second Test. Strauss at least will play a bit for Somerset and I am hoping Jimmy and KP (both of whom are missing some or all of the series against Oz) will play in the Surrey v Lancashire match at Guildford the week before the Test series starts, though I am not optimistic. It probably won’t be a massive problem for England, but it is a bit troubling especially given how good at preparation Flower and Strauss usually are. It is worth remembering that when England were playing warmup matches before the 2010/11 Ashes, Australia were playing ODIs against Sri Lanka. This was not the difference in the series, England were always going to be far too good for Australia, but it was another advantage given to England. With the series against South Africa looking like it may be a very close one and every difference magnified due to the shortness of the series, this is certainly an area where England should have done better.