A FORMER Yorkshire player who shall remain nameless said to me last summer: “The game is in a mess.”
He was referring specifically to the congested domestic and international fixture list and the unavailability to clubs of their England players.
His words sprang to mind again the other day after Yorkshire revealed that they will be without several key players at the start of next season.
As reported in The Yorkshire Post, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, pictured, have not been made available by the England management for the first two County Championship games, at home to Hampshire and away to Warwickshire.
They can play in the third match, away to Hampshire, and in a handful of Royal London Cup games before leaving in mid-May for a Champions Trophy training camp in Spain.
Adil Rashid is also unavailable to Yorkshire for the first game, for which only Liam Plunkett of the club’s England contingent is available, with his county and international team-mate David Willey still recovering after a shoulder operation.
Yorkshire, for example, would presumably win the Championship every year at present – and would have done so last year – with a full complement of players available for any significant length of time.Chris Waters
In addition, Peter Handscomb, Yorkshire’s new Australian overseas player, arrives three days before the first Championship match, but could then be whisked off for Champions Trophy duty within a matter of weeks.
Later in the year, there is a possibility that Handscomb will be needed for a tour to Bangladesh, should that proceed pending security considerations.
Once again, it proves how difficult it is to sign quality overseas players for the duration of the season.
Every year, as we know, players are rested by England and then made available for occasional county matches, seemingly at random in certain cases, while overseas cricketers constantly flit in-and-out due to international duties.
Had Bairstow succeeded in his efforts to take part in the Indian Premier League, Yorkshire would have been without him at the start of the season for that reason anyway, with T20 franchise leagues adding to the increasingly incoherent fixture schedule.
I do not blame the players; a cricketer’s career is short, and he must also prepare for when he is no longer playing.
In addition, the leading players have little or no control over when their country allows them to play for their county; even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is often protected or wrapped in cotton wool.
I accept that it is a difficult balancing act for the England management, who have to give the players a rest sometime – otherwise, they would be playing all year round.
But the situation has deteriorated to the extent that when top players are made unavailable to their counties, it barely registers in the public consciousness any more, with protests always falling on deaf ears.
Spectators – for so long taken for granted – have become dulled to the reality that they can only watch whoever is put in front of them, seemingly on a whim.
Because of this, we delude ourselves if we think that the result of any domestic tournament is an entirely accurate representation of a county’s quality and strength.
Yorkshire, for example, would presumably win the Championship every year at present – and would have done so last year – with a full complement of players available for any significant length of time.
They would, no doubt, perform even more strongly in the limited-overs tournaments, too.
But the county competitions are devalued by the absence of top players, just as they are randomly strengthened when such players are available.
It is, in effect, all a bit of a lottery.
Of course, it is unrealistic in these days of central contracts and three formats of cricket to expect to see the leading players regularly.
But it must mean that all county tournaments are, to a greater or lesser extent, determined by outside factors as much as what happens on the field.
“So, what is the solution?” I hear you yawn.
“Well, there isn’t one,” I ruefully reply.
The die has already been cast, the damage has already been done.
You simply cannot have so many county and international matches, so many different formats, so many T20 leagues, and so on, and find a workable solution to a worsening problem.
All that can be done is to try to make the best of a bad situation.
Consider, for example, that Rashid – after a month without cricket after the one-day series in the West Indies – cannot play against Hampshire in the first week of the season, but he can play against Warwickshire the following week, as if that is somehow going to magically benefit him and the national team.
As a former Yorkshire player who shall remain nameless once said: “The game is in a mess.”
We rest our case.