When Jos Buttler says an Australia v England series is irrelevant, is that enough?

4 minute read

England have just finished playing Australia in a one-day series. The first match came three days after the T20 World Cup final and the man who went on to captain England in the second game called that scheduling “horrible”. With the bare minimum diplomacy, England’s coach said the series was one his team would “have to be really professional about.” Now the actual captain has described it as ‘a good example of how not to keep bilateral cricket relevant’.

We sometimes ponder the whereabouts of the threshold at which cricket concludes, ‘okay, this is getting ridiculous now – this is simply not a thing that anyone wants any more’.

We are, first and foremost, a fan. We like cricket. We love cricket. We have been writing a whole bloody website about cricket for 16 years. And we love international cricket most of all.

One of the things we have written for this website is a calendar that pares away great swathes of international cricket that we are now consciously trying to ignore. It is not that we do not love these matches; it is that these matches actually diminish our fundamental love of the game. They actively drain our enthusiasm, bleeding the capacity for excitement from us so that there’s less available in the matches we do love.

And again: we’re a fan.

The players’ view

But no-one’s paying attention to the King Cricket Essentials Calendar when they’re scheduling series. We’re insignificant. As long as there are enough people who are kind of half-paying attention, an international cricket series is worth staging. So series get staged.

The players, when taken as a whole, are broadly okay with this. For a lot who would otherwise only be on the cusp of international selection, an extra game here or there tips them into fulfilling a lifetime ambition of playing for their country. Plus everyone gets paid.

But then there are the senior players; the successful players; the ones who’ve reached the summit of the game and found it to be a great sprawling plateau where they’re obliged to cover a surprising amount of ground. These players tend to reach a point where they manage the situation themselves and start ‘specialising’ (which is really just a euphemism for giving up formats they’d actually quite like to continue playing if that were in any way a realistic undertaking).

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But by and large everyone toes the party line: Every series is important, somehow. Every series is an opportunity, for someone.

But England really haven’t treated this one-day series against Australia like that.

“We always saw that series as being something that we will have to be really professional about,” said coach, Matthew Mott – which was not exactly giving it the hard sell.

“We have to do it, and while we’re here we might as well do it,” said Moeen Ali, sounding similarly enthused.

And now, in the aftermath, captain Jos Buttler has had his say too.

Speaking to the BBC, Buttler concluded: “I think lots of people are talking about how to keep bilateral cricket relevant and this series is a good example of how not to do it.”

Even the broadcasters weren’t into it. BT Sport had the rights, where pundit Steve Harmison summed it up as: “Meaningless cricket played in a meaningless way. Fulfilling the fixtures – that’s all it did.”

So where is the line beyond which we can all agree, “this is getting ridiculous”?

Where exactly is that “this is simply not a thing that anyone wants any more” threshold?

England have just played Australia and collectively given a pretty strong impression that they were only really doing so under sufferance. Is that the kind of cricket you want to watch? Do you truly believe that as ‘international cricket’ these matches carry equal weight to those that take place in a World Cup?

Buttler continued: “One of the biggest things is having overlapping series. We’ve got a group of players preparing for a Test series in Pakistan and we’ve got another group playing here at the same time. In the New Year a Test match finishes one day, and an ODI series against Bangladesh starts the next.

“I feel a bit for the players to be honest, the ones who are young and coming into the game at the moment, you want to play all formats but I don’t think the schedule allows you to.”

This whole situation is what is known as “a bollocks”. Buttler suggests spreading ICC tournaments out a bit (maybe not having a World Cup every year, say) – but that isn’t really enough because the situation is way beyond that. It is in fact “a complete bollocks”. (Pointless T20 leagues are increasingly vying with pointless bilateral series for pointlessness supremacy.)

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The people who most love the game say it’s a complete bollocks. The people who play the game say it’s a complete bollocks. Even the broadcasters concede that from time to time certain series are a complete bollocks.

Please stop shaping the whole damn sport around the types of people who’ll always stick a match on the telly in the background if there happens to be one on.

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