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.