England Tests captain Ben Stokes retired from one-day international cricket in July and issued a strong warning about the future of the game.
“We’re not cars, you can’t just fill us up and we’ll go out there and be ready to fill up again,” Stokes said.
Four months later, when England and Australia started an ODI series just four days after the T20 World Cup final, those words seemed more relevant than ever.
It was clear England, who had sent half of their T20 champions to Pakistan to prepare for the next round of Tests, weren’t present at the races – and understandably so. T20 World Cup winner captain Jos Buttler echoed his teammate’s statement.
“A lot of people talk about how to keep bilateral cricket relevant and this series is a good example of how not to do that,” Buttler said, after England record defeat by ODI.
“One of the most important things is to have overlapping streaks. We have a group of players preparing for a test streak in Pakistan and we have another group playing here at the same time.”
There were moments for England to celebrate in the series. Dawid Malan’s posh century in Adelaide, as well as Sam Billings and James Vince’s half-century in Sydney on their return to the white ball setup.
But with more and more players dropping out of franchise leagues due to increased workloads and feeling torn between three formats, the debate around cricket’s increasingly busy schedule appears to have reached a boiling point. ‘boiling.
“To be honest, I feel a little bit about the players, the ones who are young and coming into the game at the moment,” Buttler added.
“They want to play all formats, but I don’t think the schedule allows you to.”
The scenes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) after England’s 221 run crush could not have been more contrasting than nine days earlier when Buttler’s side lifted the T20 World Cup trophy on the same ground.
In a game that lacked both intensity and purpose, England slumped to 142 and looked like their return flight couldn’t come quickly enough.
“Some of these dismissals suggest it’s not even half their mind on the plane, it was their whole mind on the plane home,” former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior told BT Sport.
“It’s partly justified. It’s been a crazy schedule, everyone has been talking about it.
“You can’t escape the fact that if you push players, keep playing them over and over again, putting them in pressure situations with the intensity that surrounds it, with no opportunity to prepare, that’s the results.”
The ODI series also fell flat in terms of attendance, which was particularly noticeable at the colossal MCG which is usually such a stronghold for Australian teams.
But David Warner, the show’s player, expressed his understanding of the fans’ situation.
“It’s tough on the crowds,” Warner said.
“I’m not going to get into politics, but financially right now it’s a lot to ask people to pay to come to these games when they can watch them on TV.
“It’s important to keep that in mind and we respect and appreciate everyone who comes to support us.”
He also noted the difficulty for England players to enter the series after a World Cup triumph, and said he felt Australia had reached the end of their summer given the amount cricket that she had already played.
“It’s extremely difficult emotionally, you have to put all your time and effort into one format now and for us that’s testing.
“Obviously we put a lot of energy into the World Cup, but here everyone is just trying to conserve their energy for Tests.
“England are preparing for their tests against Pakistan, India are in New Zealand. We understand that there is still a lot of catching up to do because of Covid, but I think we absolutely have to take this into account .”
For both sides, attention now turns to red-ball cricket, with Australia hosting the West Indies in a two-Test series from next Wednesday, while England begin their three-game tour of Pakistan a day later.