Chris Waters: England hierarchy guilty of showing contempt to county cricket supporters

SIDELINED: Strike bowlers David Willey, above, and Liam Plunkett, inset, were withdrawn from Yorkshires Royal London Cup one-day side against Durham and told to report for England practice instead. Picture: SWPix

IT is not only the paying public that has little idea from one day to the next when England players will be able to represent their counties.

Neither, apparently, does the England hierarchy itself, judging by last week’s events regarding player availability.

In case you missed it, England performed an 11th-hour U-turn on availability for Wednesday’s games in the Royal London Cup.

They withdrew David Willey and Liam Plunkett from the Yorkshire side to face Durham, who were in turn denied the services of fellow pace bowler Mark Wood.

Although batsmen Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow – along with leg-spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid – were allowed to play for Yorkshire as planned (albeit grudgingly, by all accounts), England did not want their pace bowlers overburdened before Thursday’s practice session in Bristol ahead of yesterday’s one-day international against Ireland in that city.

So whereas Willey and Plunkett were able to travel to Bristol on Wednesday at their own pace, Messrs Root, Bairstow and Rashid only journeyed to the south-west following the game at Leeds.

England's Adil Rashid celebrates taking the wicket of Ireland's Stuart Thompson at Bristol. Picture: David Davies/PA

The episode left a sour taste – not least in the mouths of any spectator who had bought tickets for the match on the back of the announcement by the ECB in March that all five England players would be able to play for Yorkshire.

Doubtless there would have been a similar sour taste in the mouths of patrons of the Ageas Bowl and Wantage Road, who were prevented from watching Steven Finn, Ben Duckett and Moeen Ali following the realisation at ECB towers that Wednesday’s games at those grounds were actually floodlit, meaning that the players in question would not have arrived ahead of 9am practice in Bristol until the early hours of Thursday.

That there was an oversight in this respect is hardly surprising, given the crowded and complicated fixture list. The desires of England and those of the counties have long been at variance because games overlap and priorities differ. That is not the fault of the England coaches any more than it is the fault of the county coaches.

But it must be questioned whether endless practice sessions are more beneficial to players than taking part in games, and whether Willey and Plunkett would not have got more out of playing for Yorkshire on Wednesday than from participating in an England practice the following day.

In an ideal world, players could practice and rest to their heart’s content, but cricket must not disregard its spectators.

Chris Waters

There is so much cricket nowadays that it is not as if players are unaware of what the England management would want them to do.

Could not any pre-match instructions before the Ireland game – hardly a fixture of earth-shattering significance – simply have been communicated to Willey and Plunkett in the team hotel sometime on Thursday, perhaps over a banana and isotonic drink?

What possible factors were so vital as to make attendance at yet another practice session necessary?

Was it really necessary for Bairstow, straight after scoring a career-best 174, to have to dash off at 7pm down to Bristol for England’s practice the following morning?

Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett.

There is far too much practice in my opinion, seemingly as much to justify the jobs of backroom staff as anything else.

In an ideal world, players could practice and rest to their heart’s content, but cricket must not disregard its spectators.

By withdrawing Willey and Plunkett less than 24 hours before the Durham game, the ECB showed contempt for Yorkshire’s supporters. The message from the governing body could not be more clear: spectators must like it – or they must lump it.

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