England’s hellish travel schedule threatens to derail World Cup defence

England cricket team arrive in India ahead of the World Cup
England's players have a gruelling travel schedule across the next six weeks or so - Reuters/Amit Dave

England’s World Cup defence is being hampered by a gruelling 6,200 mile travel schedule across their group-stage matches.

Barely 12 hours after starting their World Cup defence with an ignominious defeat to New Zealand, they boarded their chartered flight 800 miles north, en route to Tuesday’s clash against Bangladesh in Dharamsala. If they are to go all the way again and win the trophy, England will have clocked up over 7,000 miles in the process.

Mark Wood refused to cite travel when explaining the poor performance in their tournament opener.

“I’m not going to use any excuses – tough journey but no excuses,” he said. “We were beaten by a better team, doesn’t matter if we’d had one day to prepare or three weeks [if we] get beaten like that we shouldn’t have any excuses.”

National selector Luke Wright raised the travel issue ahead of the tournament and said: “With a lot of travel and a lot of games in a short space of time, we are aware that with some of the injury risks our bowlers have, we need that cover.

“The chance of having all those bowlers in the original XI playing all the games all the way through is very slim.”

Such arduous trips, and the need to acquaint themselves with very different climates match-to-match, will become familiar for Jos Buttler’s men at the World Cup. They are, along with India, one of only two sides who have to travel after every pool match.

England will encounter very different conditions to Ahmedabad for the match against Bangladesh. In the opening game, they had to contend with stifling heat of 35 degrees Celsius. In Dharamsala, temperatures in the morning, when the game begins, will be reassuringly cool. But the 1,500m altitude in the Himalayas poses a novel challenge.

Staff work on the field ahead of the 2023 ICC men's cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between Afghanistan and Bangladesh a
The venue for England's second match of the World Cup, against Bangladesh - Getty Images/Arun Sankar

In a perverse way, this is a compliment: besides the hosts, England are deemed the most attractive side for Indian spectators to watch, encouraging administrators to share their games around between cities. But during the World Cup this has an unpalatable consequence: making England’s schedule markedly more difficult than most their rivals.

To retain the World Cup, England won’t just need to overcome the world’s best. They will also need to overcome a schedule that could have been designed to challenge the oldest squad in the tournament: as captain Buttler joked recently, England’s 32-year-olds now represent the ‘young’ in young vs old games.

Indeed, England could reasonably claim to feeling jaded already. Fresh or not from a remarkable, high-octane home summer, they had to travel for 28 hours to reach Guwahati, north of Bangladesh, for their two warm-up matches. Then they had to fly another four hours to get to Ahmedabad to play New Zealand, arriving in the city just 48 hours before the match.

New Zealand would be entitled to say their route to India was at least as taxing as England’s. After flying in, their two warm-up matches were both in different cities. Yet, for New Zealand, the remainder of their schedule is altogether less gruelling: the Black Caps play consecutive matches at the same venue three times. And so while England will undergo eight internal flights during the group stages, New Zealand have five.

Central to England’s planning for the World Cup has been the question of how to cope with the unrelenting schedule.

The World Cup fixture list – both the matches themselves and the travel – is particularly demanding for pace bowlers. Being cramped into plane seat for a couple of hours risks aggravating any back issues that players have. The restricted movement on planes tends to be most unwelcome for the tallest men - above all for 6ft 8in Reece Topley and Gus Atkinson, at 6ft 5in.

Awareness of the brutality of England’s schedule underpinned the thinking to select six specialist pace bowlers in the final 15-man squad. Such an abundance of pace options should help to avoid, say, Woakes or Wood being injured for a game or two and having to be sent home because there would otherwise be a lack of fit cover. But with less onerous travel, England might have been more inclined to select one fewer pace bowler in their first 15, perhaps enabling them to select left-arm spinner Liam Dawson as a tactical option on turning wickets.

When they won the World Cup in 2019, England’s seamers did not suffer a single injury, and they used just 13 players throughout the tournament. Age, and the schedule, means England are aware they are unlikely to be so fortunate again. If they are to retain their ODI crown, it will need to be a triumph of the squad.