New breed vital as England battle absurd schedule that will not ease up

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Making his mark: Phil Salt batted brilliantly for England in Amsterdam  (Getty Images)
Making his mark: Phil Salt batted brilliantly for England in Amsterdam (Getty Images)

No sooner has England’s white-ball team’s joyous assignment in Amsterdam concluded than the Test side face New Zealand at Headingley.

It is the first time in 92 years that England have played matches in different countries on successive days, but Test skipper Ben Stokes’s message is: get used to it.

“Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be more like that moving forward, because the cricketing world is playing catch-up on the time we couldn’t play because of Covid,” he said.

In the summer of 2020, England played Ireland in Southampton and Pakistan in Manchester on successive days, but there were no crowds then.

England’s schedule is absurd, and more of the same can be expected this winter, when they undertake six different tours to five different countries across three formats. No schedules have been announced yet, but there is expected to be particular pinch between the Test tour of New Zealand and the white-ball trips to Bangladesh next spring.

Even next month, the rescheduled Test against India in Birmingham finishes on July 7, then the T20 side play at the Ageas Bowl two days later.

A deepened player pool is absolutely imperative. Stokes was one of the first-choice white-ball players missing against the Netherlands. Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root are with him in Leeds, while Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Saqib Mahmood are injured. In their absence, newer faces (there was one debutant, David Payne) stepped up with aplomb.

Phil Salt, who doubled his tally of ODIs to six, was the standout, with 248 runs from 177 balls, including a maiden century. Liam Livingstone had played only three ODIs before this series too, but he brought some of his T20 form to the 50-over game and already feels a must-play. Brydon Carse provided the sort of middle-overs punch missing since England moved on from Liam Plunkett after the last World Cup. Payne looked assured on debut yesterday.

“We’ve learned that the new players coming in look like they’ve played 50 games,” said Jason Roy, now a veteran of 100 caps. “They haven’t looked new at all. They’ve played the way we’ve been playing for years.”

Bryson Carse also impressed during the short three-match ODI tour of the Netherlands (Getty Images)
Bryson Carse also impressed during the short three-match ODI tour of the Netherlands (Getty Images)

Then think of the players — mainly batters — who did not make the trip; Sam Billings, averaging 56 in ODIs since the last World Cup; James Vince, who made a hundred in his last ODI; then the likes of Harry Brook and Tom Banton, who are a generation younger.

The response of senior players was outstanding. David Willey, who took eight wickets at an economy of 4.7, just keeps plugging away. Moeen Ali had a solid tour, and if England end up with him, Livingstone and Stokes in the same ODI XI, they will have plenty of bowling options.

Salt is Roy Mk II. They share many attributes and an attitude that make Salt a direct threat to Roy’s place in the side leading up to the World Cup next year. That sense was heightened when a Roy failure and Salt’s century met in the opening match, but Roy was not down for long. He made 73, then 101 not out, his 10th ODI century.

There was one exception: Eoin Morgan. His two ducks in isolation are one thing, but next week it will be a year since he has made a half-century in any cricket. More concerning is how his body is holding up, as he struggles to piece together two T20 games, let alone 50-over matches. He does not play much cricket these days, so when he does, he picks up injuries.

A deepened player pool is absolutely imperative as England cope with an absurd schedule

Jos Buttler is in very special form and is emphatically ready to captain this side. Roy is an up and down character, and he credited conversations with Buttler for keeping him level after his failure in the opening game. It might be time for England to have three different captains: Stokes in Tests, Buttler in ODIs and Morgan in T20s.

This was a productive little trip for England, and the Dutch will have benefited on two levels, too: their board will have made money from the thousands of visiting fans, and the players will have benefited from facing some of the best in the world.

Footage of Adil Rashid working with young Dutch spinners in the nets while England batted yesterday was a warming sight.

Perhaps, this should be the start of something annual. Between Tests, early in the summer, squeeze three ODIs in against either Ireland, Scotland or the Netherlands. The benefits are mutual.

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