Ben Stokes became a slave in English cricket’s cash grab - Chris Waters

THEY are the cricketing equivalent of galley slaves – human chattel, flogged to the bone, grateful perhaps for a bit of stale bread and a cup of dirty water.

Ben Stokes and his colleagues are like the poor souls who rode their masters across the seven seas.

So much so, one wonders how long it will be before one of them dies from exhaustion on the voyage from format to format, series to series, shackled by a relentless, punishing schedule.

In reality, of course, Stokes has a choice which the galley slaves did not – namely, he can just walk away and, as he has done in an attempt to ameliorate the burden, retire from one-day international cricket.

MEngland's Ben Stokes will walk away from one-day international cricket this week. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

He is handsomely remunerated and, if there is any stale bread in his possession, Stokes can simply feed it to the birds while restocking his kitchen with the finest, most expensive loaves known to man.

This is not a galley slave struggling on the breadline.

Stokes and his colleagues earn a darned good crust, they are celebrated and feted the world over and enjoy all the trappings of fame and fortune, but that is not the point.

The point – as Stokes said in announcing his decision at the age of just 31 – is that the schedule is “unsustainable” and that “my body is letting me down because of the schedule and what is expected of us”, a damning indictment of the slave-driving governing bodies and their craven and, one would say without the slightest equivocation, inhuman pursuit of cash at all costs.

England's Ben Stokes who will retire from one-day internationals after Tuesday's match with South Africa at Durham, the England Test captain has announced. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

If anything illustrates the dangerous demands of the calendar, both domestic and international, and the glassy greed of those who run the sport, it has come in striking snapshot this week in the form of those players chained to the rowing benches of the good ships England and India.

On Sunday, the two sides completed the last of a three-match one-day international series at Old Trafford, a game which also deprived Yorkshire of David Willey, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow at T20 Finals Day the day before, plus Lancashire of Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone and Somerset of Craig Overton.

On Tuesday, England go straight into another three-match ODI series against South Africa in Chester-le-Street (Stokes’s final appearance fittingly taking place on his home ground) while India, preposterously, start a three-match ODI series in the Caribbean on Friday in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Leaving aside the question of who exactly is interested in all of these rat-a-tat bilateral series that merge into a seemingly endless meringue of monotony, the only surprise is that England even have a solitary day off between series (one spent on a coach trip to the north-east in 35 degree temperatures) and that India are not required to squeeze in a game or two in between playing in England on Sunday and in the West Indies on Friday. Surely the International Cricket Council have missed a trick on that one.

But, in all seriousness, how long before other big-name players follow Stokes’s example and say “enough is enough” and decide to walk away?

Already, we have seen players prioritise T20 franchise competitions over Test cricket and, in what should sound further alarm bells, we are now seeing countries pull out of white-ball series to focus on launching their own T20 tournaments – witness South Africa’s decision to withdraw from an ODI tour to Australia for exactly that reason, even though it may well cost them ODI points and World Cup qualification.

The tectonic plates of the world game are shifting and the galley slave cricketers, pulled back and forth by their cane-wielding taskmasters, are stuck somewhere in the middle.

Whether Stokes – who has also withdrawn from his Northern Superchargers contract at Headingley to manage his workload and fitness – proves the catalyst for a wake-up call remains to be seen. The Hundred, of course, further adds to the chaos and confusion, a wortheless concept – for the men at least – that should be scrapped.

There is a parallel between the absurd demands placed on players and the endless glut of games and the climate change situation. Either one realises in the midst of the current extreme heatwave that something needs to be done to tackle the problem before it gets even worse, or else one continues to bury one’s head in the increasingly scorched sand.