Is there too much international cricket?
A familiar picture for England's players this Autumn (photo: Getty Images)

Is there too much international cricket?

England's current tour of Sri Lanka was scheduled during monsoon season due to a packed calendar for both nations.

Chris Lincoln

As England prepare for their fifth and final One Day International of the Series against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, all eyes will once again turn to the weather forecast. And it does not make pretty reading...

The tourists have sealed a 3-0 victory already but all four of their matches have been affected by rain, along with their two warm-up games earlier in the month. 

With thunderstorms forecast for Tuesday in Colombo, and every day for at least the next week including Saturday's Twenty20 match, the questions will continue to intensify as to why this tour was scheduled during monsoon season.

"Very little wriggle room"

The six matches played so far have seen an average of less than 50 overs - half of what should have been played. Two matches have been abandoned with no result, three have been decided by Duckworth-Lewis and one was reduced to a 21-over contest.

Tensions became apparent in the third match of the Series when the pitch in Kandy spent much of the contest under water. The England and Wales Cricket Board used the extended break to release a statement defending the decision to tour Sri Lanka at the height of monsoon season:

"After hosting England, Sri Lanka spend the rest of the 2018-19 season touring New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They play their first match in New Zealand on 8 December, which left very little wriggle room given our final Test in Sri Lanka finishes on 29 November."

Fortunately for them and the fans in attendance, a benefit of Sri Lanka's climate is that pitches dry out quickly to allow at least some cricket to be played.

123 days of international cricket in one year

However, the statement does touch on a potentially problematic issue - the packed nature of the international fixture list.

Since 4th November 2017, England have played 55 international matches, encompassing tours of Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, whilst Pakistan and Australia made their way over to the birth country of the sport. By the beginning of November, England would have played 123 days of cricket in 365 days.

The time spent on the road is quite extraordinary. England started their tour of Australia at the beginning of November before crossing to New Zealand to culminate almost five months spent on the other side of the world. A summer at home was packed full of international and domestic matches before this most recent tour will fill almost two months. Only a short spell between April and May and a few weeks during September saw England players having a break from travelling around the nation and globe.

It is hardly surprising that there is "very little wriggle room" for the scheduling of certain tours.

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Specialists in different formats

So, how are players coping? It appears that cricket is gradually transforming not just into three different variations but almost three different sports. The skill, technique and tactical awareness required in the Twenty20 format of the game is completely different to that of Test match cricket. Fewer players are excelling across all variations of the game as the gap between the skills required continues to grow and many are making themselves unavailable for certain formats of the game.

How many football freestylers do you see playing professional football? Cricket could slowly be travelling towards a similar outcome. 

Only Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root are in the top three batsmen across the ICC rankings for Test and ODI batting, whilst Rohit Sharma is the solo representative in both the ODI and Twenty20 standings. Unsurprisingly, there are no similarities between the top ten of the longest and shortest formats of the sport.

As for the bowling, Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult enjoy top ten positions in both Test and ODI formats, whilst Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid and Imran Tahir are poignant slower options in the limited overs contests. Again, there are no correlations between the Test and T20 formats.

Root and Buttler rack up the miles

Yet several of the more talented players are still devoting their lives to all three formats. England captain Root has committed 109 days to cricket in the past year with 14 Tests, 23 ODIs, three T20s and a handful of domestic matches to date. That is an average of a spell in the field or at the crease every three days.

Similarly, Jos Buttler has spent 60 days devoted to his nation whilst also playing a number of games for his county and enjoying 13 matches across a two-month spell in the Indian Premier League - the place to go if cricket players want to enjoy a good pay day.

This recent tour of Sri Lanka has been scheduled for England to learn to play with and against spin on the Asian continent. But is it one tour too many for this year? These cricket players do have personal lives after all and the amount of time actually playing against spin has been considerably less than the coaches would have hoped.