In many houses up and down the land, parents say to their children, ‘No, you can’t have sweets now, you’ll spoil your tea.’ And the children protest:

‘But Mum, I really want some. I love sweets.’

‘But it’s lasagne for tea – your favourite.’

‘I know but tea’s ages away. I do love lasagne and I’ll definitely eat it all up, even if I do have sweets.’

‘No’

‘Oh, pleeeease… ‘

Promise you’ll eat your tea?’

‘Promise.’

‘OK, just a few.’

‘Thanks Mum.’

One hour later…

‘I can’t eat it all, I feel sick. It wasn’t as nice after all those sweets…’

‘I told you…’

…ad infinitum.

And where, you muse, might this analogy of instant gratification versus long-term consequences be taking us? I shall tell you. It is taking us to the absurd schedule that modern international cricketers – and England cricketers in particular for the purposes of this blog post – are facing. These are schedules where not only we do have the big meals to look forward to like the Ashes but where the snacks in between are getting bigger and bigger, and more and more frequent. Not only that, but even the main meals are coming twice as often. And England’s players, and their fans, are starting to feel sick.

When I saw this week that England players were giving interviews and had had their winter haircuts, I knew that it must be time for them to board a plane again for their next stint of international cricket. It struck me how long they seem to have had off. Checking back, England’s last international fixture was on 7 September, the T20 against India. The fact that only two months off seems like a lifetime speaks volumes in itself.

Of course, we’ve had Bangladesh-Zimbabwe, Pakistan-Australia, and West Indies-India (briefly) to keep us amused in the meantime but England may well look back on those two months and reflect on it as an extraordinary period of rest. In the next year, this is what’s ahead of them:

  • Nov/Dec 14 Sri Lanka – ODIsecb
  • Jan 15 Aus/India – ODIs
  • Feb-Mar 15 World Cup – ODIs
  • Apr-May 15 West Indies – Tests
  • May 15 Ireland – ODI
  • May-Jun 15 New Zealand – Tests, ODIs, T20s
  • Jul-Sept 15 Australia – Tests, ODIs, T20s
  • Oct-Nov 15 Pakistan – Tests, ODIs, T20s
  • Dec 15-Feb 16 South Africa – Tests, ODIs, T20s

It’s quite an extraordinary list – and there’s no let-up in sight thereafter.

I was sure it wasn’t like this when I were a lad. I seem to remember having to wait for months for the next international cricket to watch, listen to and read about. I used to scour the back of my Dad’s newspaper looking for cricket scores – any cricket scores – just to feed off the scraps until the next big match. Natal v Griqualand West? That’ll do. Mashonaland v Matabeleland? Yes please.

Checking back, it seems my memory doesn’t deceive me. In 1989-90, for example, there were six summer tests (the Ashes) and four winter tests (West Indies) and that was it. Going back even further to when I was but a mewling, puking infant, England played four tests and a World Cup in the summer of 1975 – and there was no winter series at all.

Now look at the schedule above and tell me it’s the right thing for players and spectators alike.

It’s not. We are gorging on snacks and spoiling our meals. The sugar value is high and the nutrition value low. It will make us, the spectators, and them, the players, ill. In the short-term, we must watch sub-standard performances, players being rested, meaningless matches. This will – and has already begun to – lead to disgruntlement and lower crowds at matches. Do you think the ECB and ICC have noticed? Kind of. But their solution it to make up for falling ticket revenue by adding more matches in the hope that a) more spectators cumulatively will come but mainly b) the revenue from selling broadcasting rights will increase still further.

It’s a treadmill we’ll struggle to climb off.

Perhaps in ten years time, the great and the good will sit down to watch a rubbish match between two knackered, second-string sides, in front of a desultory crowd and finally twig.

But probably not. They’re more likely to point the finger of blame at the players: the handsomely-rewarded, cosseted, coached, feted, never-had-it-so-good, should-be-proud-to-play-for-your-country players. The travel-weary, bodily-broken, absent-father, empty, depressed, exhausted players.

They only wanted to play for their country, just like so many of us when we were kids. Now that honour is in danger of becoming an empty husk, with all the joy sucked clean out.

Please, powers-that-be, stop force-feeding us. We’re not hungry any more.

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