2022 started with Australia finishing off an Ashes whitewash, but some high performances since by England in a year of much cricket: 15 Tests, 12 ODIs and 28 T20 fixtures; a schedule with 115 playing days, Ben Stokes playing on more days than anyone.
It’s a tricky period for the high performance thinking in the Strauss Review and the idea that less will lead to better: in 2022 the number of playing days, the different formats on England’s (nine-month) schedule were pretty much pro rata with the domestic season. 48 players overall, a few too many to put on one graphic, but still an idea below about who did what, and the split between red and white-ball players: most mainly, if not wholly, one or the other.
Scheduled days, source Cricket Archive.
All good then or simply too much? The non-crowd at ODI batch number CA20ECB12 was one pointer this year. But there are 45 Test matches coming up over the next four years and county members putting their hands up for a 14-game Championship have quite reasonably been giving those in charge a fair reminder.
When this subject comes round it doesn’t often start with whether there are too many Test match grounds, obvious enough question that it is. Did anybody ever think nine was the right number? Maybe they did, or at least were in favour of competition to upgrade facilities, although of the 150+ home Test matches since 2000, England have played just 15 of them at Cardiff, Chester-le-Street and Southampton.
This is a very different pattern to the expansion of Test cricket that took place after WWII when as more Tests were played, more were played at Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Headingley. In the years 1970-99 England played 150+ Tests and all six grounds staged more than of 20 of them, albeit that as five Test summers became six more often in the 80s and 90s, Lord’s staged two matches.
One ground then usually missed out and with Lord’s and the Oval something of a given, it left three from four. In the 21st century with the three newcomers and seven Test summers, a problem; too many and not only in hindsight.
The consequences of this financially were wholly unsurprisingly sizeable losses at some of the TMG counties, followed by debt write-offs (a great big ‘profit’ for Glamorgan in 2015) and other financial restorations. Taken together on this horizon the smaller counties have essentially broken even, although whether they are more sustainable now with The 100 is moot.
So too many smaller (non-TMG) counties ? Or the opposite and that they are not ‘county enough’, too much like smaller versions of the Test match counties when they should be staging more festivals in more places. As cricket finds out whether there is enough interest to sustain both The 100 and The Blast, a big expense, it doesn’t need the bonkerdom of shrinking the cricket map as well.
The Gabba, Pat Cummins about to start his 3rd Test in 2021, Joe Root his 13th, leading an England team that were, in the words of Gideon Haigh, over managed and under prepared. It seemed like a reasonable explanation of things when I read it.
Numbers on the cricket played by those appearing for both sides in 2021 are here. Despite white ball priority since 2015 England have continued to play more Test cricket, 96 matches 2015-21 to 73 by both Australia and by India; the Ashes coming at the end of calendar year in which Australia last played a Test v India in January.
So is Test cricket now being played to the point that its followers in England are not switching on, greed at the ECB turning in on itself? Maybe so, the possibility of simply too much a blind spot for those in media centres with a liking for world travel, and for those who complain 18 is too many counties?
In the year of a T20 World Cup both sides had similar amounts of short-form cricket in their players. The Australians played rather more in their domestic 50 over competition in 2021, the Marsh One Day Cup, which might have helped them to an extent, but players meeting commitments to the IPL, were Warner, Smith, Cummins, Hazlewood and Richardson on one side and Malan, Buttler, Stokes Bairstow and Woakes the other. Something similar could be said in relation to the other T20 leagues around the world.
A match-up then between the Sheffield Shield and the County Championship, with the later guilty as charged? One look at what the players do points as much as anything to the fundamental of the playing talent: the generational effects of taking cricket behind a TV paywall and the prominence of London 2012, and a line of ‘South Africans with Scottish grannies’ that had given England’s batting backbone, and brilliance, over the decades drying up. A message from Ashes 2021 to English cricket not to understate its diversity problems.