England’s crazy winter shows they only care about Tests and World Cups

England become world champions – Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

It’s been a good few months for earning airline miles if you’re an English player or have the money to follow them in five countries.

It was the day after the South Africa Test at the Oval on September 13, when England’s first tour began, when the players flew to Pakistan for a seven-game T20 series. Since then they have played test series in Pakistan and New Zealand, white ball series in Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh. Oh, and there was also a World Cup in Australia.

The hardest working cricketer? Moeen Ali with 27 games, none of which are friendly. Adil Rashid is down one at 26. The busiest across all formats? Harry Brook with 24 games – and 1,190 runs and a 54 average. Brook’s 38 sixes this winter is just two fewer than Graham Gooch’s entire 20-year international career, pre-T20 days of course but still a mark of how himself changed the game.

What was learned? It is becoming increasingly clear that the priorities for England are now Test cricket (which is great news) and global tournaments. The bilateral series exist to fulfill contractual broadcasting obligations but are increasingly becoming relics of a pre-franchise cricket era.

Rob Key, the England director, has made the pragmatic decision that he and the coaches will be judged against the Test series and World Cups, of which there is one every year. He knows players can earn more in franchise leagues than in a white ball series in Bangladesh; the choice is yours now.

Harry Brook with his awards - Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Harry Brook with his awards – Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Players’ wage inflation is the next big challenge for the England & Wales Cricket Board and also for the counties, which are beginning to realize that even non-international players in franchise leagues have more lucrative income streams than struggling on the Championship circuit.

The problem facing the two Richards (Managing Director Gould and Chairman Thompson) at the ECB is how to find the extra money to pay English players to keep them loyal and the inevitable rising wage demands for the Women’s football, thanks to its IPL, is also undergoing a revolutionary change. The ECB’s domestic and Indian broadcast deals (the only other notable source of revenue) are signed through 2028, and it’s hard to imagine how they’ll get more out of the viewership and gate money.

A look at the list of player appearances this winter shows that being a Test specialist is still an attractive life. Joe Root has only played five Tests and Jimmy Anderson has played four. Brendon McCullum has created a comfortable environment in which cricketers want to be a part. It’s smart because he knows players have other options now.

Brendon McCullum-Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Brendon McCullum-Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The schedule was moronic, but there were extenuating circumstances. The seven T20s in Pakistan should make up for the disappointment of their hosts last winter, a two-match T20 trip planned as a thank you for their tour of England over the Covid summer. The South African ODIs remained after England canceled a 2021 tour, the Bangladesh games were another Covid casualty and the two Tests in New Zealand referenced each other’s 2021 England tour as counties grappled with a summer emptier Pandemic stages recovered.

It’s easy to forget that almost every away game is mutual. England played three ODIs and three T20s after the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, which was met with apathy from the crowd.

In turn, Australia are playing eight white ball games in England in 2024, which will feel as pointless as competitions but will be important paydays for the counties hosting games

England’s white ball games are worth approximately £700,000 to £1million to these clubs. And many are facing high debt and rising interest rates. You need the money. It will be interesting to see if the paying crowd here gets fed up with those white ball streaks too and prefers going to a Hundred game that has much cheaper tickets instead.

It requires careful player handling, an enlarged pool of good enough cricketers and a team worth watching. England certainly are. It was an unforgettable winter. Babzall has worked abroad, the team are well prepared for the Ashes and the Tests at Rawalpindi and Wellington were among the best ever played by England. There were also some unforgettable crickets, but the longest winter prepared the summer nicely.

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