Joe Root was England’s top scorer at the last Cricket World Cup. Jonny Bairstow leathered back-to-back hundreds against India and New Zealand with his team scrambling to stay in the tournament. And Ben Stokes… well, he basically won the final.
Wind the clock on three years and not one of them featured in the World Cup qualifying series which ended on Wednesday with England wrapping up a comfortable 3-0 victory over the Netherlands. So much has cricket changed since “the barest of margins” that the key members of that side can now no longer participate in many ODI games.
All three will be in the England lineup on Thursday as England face New Zealand again, this time in the Third Test at Headingley, and after Root’s and Bairstow’s heroics in the two wins so far in this three-match series they both currently look set to be as crucial to the Test setup in the years to come, as is new skipper Stokes.
But such is the cricket calendar these days – part exacerbated by Covid-19, part designed by those looking to flog players into the ground so long as there’s money in it – overlapping series in different formats and in different countries are becoming more and more normalized . The genie is out of the bottle and is never going back. Stick another three years on the calendar and Tests and ODIs are likely to become ever more estranged from one another.
Just as countries regularly select multiple captains to deal with the various formats, now might be the time to designate a group of players for white-ball cricket and a separate pool for Tests. And stick to it. Yes, we might miss out on seeing Bairstow, Root, Stokes and more in major fixtures, but it’s becoming more a necessity than a choice given the sheer volume of internationals being stuck in the calendar.
Root’s centuries in successive Tests since handing over the captaincy have seen him elevated back to number one in the ICC world rankings in that discipline, while Stokes’ position as skipper in the five-day game means his focus is now clearly on red-ball matters . As for Bairstow, his innings at Trent Bridge to win the Second Test was one for the ages, but his career in the whites has been a true rollercoaster and his out-and-out power game might be best reserved for ODIs and Twenty20s if a time comes where we end up with a very definite split between the two forms of the game.
BAIRSTOW’S BLOCKBUSTER CENTURY IN THE 2ND TEST SAW ENGLAND WIN THE SERIES
It would be a real shame if the day came where cricket effectively became two sports, but maybe it’s best to separate one from the other sooner rather than later. Just as Sonny Bill Williams played rugby league and rugby union at various points in his career, cricketers have been asked to play very different codes at times. But Williams played one sport at a time, and the more congested the cricket calendar becomes the more it feels like we’re distancing one type of cricket from another.
The temptation has in the past been to expect form in one mode to translate to the other. Alastair Cook was England’s dual captain for years despite an average of only 36 and strike rate of 77 in the ODI game. Worse still, Michael Vaughan led the colored-clothing side without ever notching a ton, with his average 27 and strike rate just 68.
It’s gone the other way too, with the likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales and more getting the nod in the Test side despite lacking the minerals to excel in the longer format whatever their success rate in one-dayers.
International cricket is fast becoming a 365-day concern but our best players can’t be expected to stay on for the entire ride. So as England go from an ODI in Amstelveen to a Test in Leeds in the space of 18 hours, it might be time to start getting used to having one team out battering balls over the boundary and another digging in for the long haul.
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