“Cricket is broken,” Wisden’s managing editor Ben Gardner declared. It’s the bitter reality facing the game in the wake of Ben Stokes’ retirement from One Day Internationals.
The England star shocked the sport, and even his teammates, when he revealed he would be giving up the 50-over format to focus on his Test captaincy duties as well as T20 cricket.
The news is a bitter blow to England’s hopes of next year retaining their 2019 ODI World Cup title, in which Stokes was awarded man of the match in the final.
But it is more than that. It is a wake-up call for the game’s administrators around the world.
After 50 years, ODI cricket isn’t what it used to be. And it faces the prospect of losing relevance and its best players, squeezed out of a packed schedule by the traditional and the new – Tests and T20s respectively.
‘Can’t give my teammates 100%’: Stokes’ shock retirement call after World Cup heroics
The 31-year-old Englishman is one of the finest all-rounders in the game, and ODI cricket has arguably been his best format – he has blasted 29,919 runs in 104 games at the impressive average of 39.44 and with a strike rate of 95.26.
His 74 wickets with the ball and his elite fielding made him a centrepiece of England’s team in all three formats – but the constant stress of playing in all three forms of the game has clearly taken its toll.
But, he wrote, “Three formats are just unsustainable for me now.
“I feel that my body is letting me down because of the schedule and what is expected of us.”
In The Telegraph, Nick Hoult said it: “felt like a bombshell but in reality it had a long fuse,” referencing Stokes’ break from the game at the end of July 2021 for mental health reasons.
Hoult added: “During his break last year he cut himself off from many of his team-mates and they worried he had fallen out of love with the game. But since taking over from Root as Test captain he has looked like his old self, giving everything to a job he clearly loves.”
The long fuse behind this bombshell is less about Stokes than the game itself – and he core problem is not a new one. There is simply too much cricket on the calendar. It is not just unsustainable for Stokes, but for all of cricket.
Stokes announcement felt like a carbon copy of Kevin Pietersen’s own international retirement from white-ball cricket, 10 years ago in June 2012.
“After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I am announcing my retirement from international one-day cricket.,” Pietersen said. “With the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body, approaching 32, I think it is the right time to step aside and let the next generation of players come through.”
What was a problem then has devolved into a crisis. In the period June 2022 to March 2023, England is set to play 12 Tests, 18 ODIs, 19 bilateral T20Is and a T20 World Cup – over 100 days of men’s international cricket in all.
It is their busiest season ever. And while some of that is due to the inclusion of series that were postponed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it does not change the fundamental problem that faces all three-format players.
There is also more domestic T20 cricket than ever, with countries like South Africa debuting a new franchise tournament this summer (so new it doesn’t even have a name yet!), as well as the ever-increasing number of ICC tournaments like World Cups. England’s latest cricketing fad, the even-shorter-format The Hundred competition, only adds to the explosive mix.
Matt Roller wrote for ESPN Cricinfo: “In abstract, it should serve as a wake-up call for cricket’s administrators. One of the sport’s most recognisable players making himself unavailable for his team’s defence of their world title in India next year is a damaging moment, one that underlines the extent to which boards have flogged their most valuable assets by cramming series into even the smallest gaps in the schedule.”
As Rory Dollard of PA declared even more simply: “Stokes’ ODI retirement – complete with very carefully worded criticism of England’s schedule – has to be the tipping point. The fixture list is complete bullsh*t and it’s wrecking the players and the product. Enough.”
Stokes, for context, has already opted out of the Indian Premier League (T20), as well as The Hundred. His decision, therefore, is clearly not about money – though he is in a far more fortunate position in that regard than many players around the world facing the same scheduling crunch.
Instead, Stokes made clear his decision was about his love of Test cricket above all.
Stokes said: “I will give everything I have to Test cricket, and now, with this decision, I feel I can also give my total commitment to the T20 format.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain declared the current schedule ‘madness’ and delivered praise for Stokes’ decision, saying “I respect him immensely.”
“It is disappointing news to say the least but it is a reflection of where the cricketing schedule is at the moment,” Hussain told Sky Sports. “It is madness for players.
“Half the reasons [for his retirement] will be physical, and half will be mental, and mental in Ben’s case is the fact he can’t do things at 70, 80%.
“He’s not just going to be a bit-part player, he has to do it full on and he’s not willing to do it unless he does it 100%.
“In a way, I respect him immensely for making that decision because that’s how you want every England cricketer to turn up, giving it everything every single day.
“The issue is not with the ECB as far as Rob Key, the issue is not with Ben Stokes, the issue is with the schedule.
“If the ICC just keep putting on ICC events and individual boards just keep filling the gaps with as much cricket as possible, eventually these cricketers will just say I’m done, and Ben Stokes is done with one format aged 31, which can’t be right, really. The schedule needs looking at, it is a bit of a joke at the moment.”
ODI FUTURE UNDER THREAT
In recent years, the rise of T20 cricket and the big-money tournaments like the IPL has led to fears that Test cricket would fall by the wayside, with players opting to become white-ball specialists rather than hone their red-ball craft. In that regard, Stokes’ decision to prioritise Test cricket is a win for that format – but a major blow to the ODI game.
As Former India ODI spinner Pragyan Ojha wrote: “We were worried about TEST cricket’s future but the future of ODI looks uncertain!
“In future we may see many cricketers preferring to move away from this format. #SomethingToThinkAbout”
It comes after another Indian international and fellow spinner Ravi Ashwin reveals he turns off the television if ODI cricket is on.
Speaking on the ‘Vaughany and Tuffers Cricket Club’ podcast, Ashwin said: “The greatest beauty of one-day cricket is – sorry, was – the ebbs and flows of the game. People used to bide their time and take the game deep.
“The one-day format used to be a format where bowlers had a say. Even me, as a cricket badger and a cricket nut, I switch off the TV after a point and that’s frankly very scary for the format of the game.
“When those ebbs and flows go missing, it’s not cricket anymore. It’s just an extended form of T20. It’s a question of relevance and I think ODI cricket needs to find its relevance. It needs to find its spot.”
Finding a place in the calendar is difficult enough, let alone finding -or re-finding – the identity of the format.
For some, it already might be too late.
Simon Briggs wrote for The Telegraph: “We are witnessing the long, slow death of 50-over cricket … credibility is draining from this once vibrant format with each passing day.”
He added: “Like Soda Streams, road atlases and SLR cameras, the traditional one-dayer is now a heritage product of dubious relevance. When the 50-over international turned 50, in January last year, it was the sort of birthday party where everyone crowds around a hospital bed.”
Stokes is not the first player forced into a brutally tough decision about his international career, nor will he be the last. But there can be no doubt that change must take placeto protect players and the game itself.
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here