England World Cup places up for grabs as white-ball overload continues

England's Liam Plunkett: Chance to shine in T20 series.
England's Liam Plunkett: Chance to shine in T20 series.
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FOLLOWING the Test matches and one-day internationals in Australia, and prior to the forthcoming one-day internationals and Test matches in New Zealand, there is a brief break in England’s schedule from the gruelling grind of five-day and 50-over cricket.

What better way to fill it, therefore, than with even more cricket – this time in the form of a T20 tri-series with Australia and New Zealand, which began when the host nations met in Sydney on Saturday.

England’s first match in the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 Tri-Series, to give it its Sunday name, comes against Australia this morning in Hobart.

They then play Australia in Melbourne on Saturday before meeting New Zealand in Wellington on February 13 and then again in Hamilton on February 18, with the final in Auckland on February 21.

If you think that there is time to catch your breath after that lot, think again.

There is then just a four-day gap to the first of England’s five one-day internationals against New Zealand, followed by a two-Test series against the Kiwis scheduled to end on April 2.

After that, it is just a few short weeks until the start of the home Test summer against Pakistan, an interval that – fear ye not – will be taken up by the Indian Premier League and the start of the English county season, with barely a pause for air in between.

It would be easy to grow cynical about the jam-packed nature of cricket’s schedule, but cynicism took root a long time ago and is unlikely to relinquish its grip hereabouts.

Why we need this T20 tri-series is perhaps known only to those who hold the purse strings/put any great store in international T20 cricket, with the next T20 World Cup in Australia fully two years away and with franchise T20 becoming ever stronger.

Still, at least there is some context to this event – ie someone can actually win the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 Tri-Series trophy – as opposed to the often meaningless T20 internationals shoved into the end of your average tour.

At least there is some context to this event – ie someone can actually win the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 Tri-Series trophy – as opposed to the often meaningless T20 internationals shoved into the end of your average tour.

The YP’s Chris Waters

However, the absence of players such as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow for England, who are both rested, along with the continuing unavailability of Ben Stokes for reasons that do not need explanation, perhaps diminishes some of the interest for the average England supporter.

Still, there is plenty to play for at least for those individuals hoping to remain a part of England’s white-ball revolution, with all eyes now on the 50-over World Cup in England next year.

England are ranked third in one-day international cricket and fourth in T20 internationals, having slipped to an unacceptable fifth in the Test match standings.

With Australia ranked seventh in T20 and conserving some energy for their forthcoming tour to South Africa, England may face stiffer opposition from New Zealand, who are ranked second in the game’s shortest format behind Pakistan.

There is little to choose between the top few countries in T20, however, and England’s goal as much as anything will be to maintain the white-ball momentum continued with a splendid 4-1 victory over Australia in the ODIs.

Anyone wanting to follow the tri-series on television can do so only through a combination of BT Sport and Sky Sports, reflecting the increasingly complicated nature of television rights.

BT Sport are showing the games in Australia as part of the deal struck to air the Ashes, while Sky Sports retains rights to the fixtures played in New Zealand.

In Australia, the series is being split across free-to-air and pay television, with Channel Nine and Fox Sports sharing the duties.

From this seat, it seems an awful lot of trouble to go to for the parties involved, although no-one could deny that subscription viewers in this country are nothing if not well-catered for in terms of cricket.

With Root and Bairstow not involved, it means that Yorkshire interest will focus on Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid and David Willey, the club’s representatives in Eoin Morgan’s squad.

Plunkett will be anxious for some game-time after suffering a hamstring injury in the one-day series just ended, while Willey is another seeking to grasp any chance that comes his way, having featured only in the last of the five one-day internationals against Australia at the new Perth stadium.

England’s ‘gun player’ could well be Rashid, who was the leading wicket-taker in the ODI series with 10 at an average of 29.9.

The leg-spinner has had plenty of T20 experience in Australia with the Adelaide Strikers and is a key member of England’s white-ball teams.