The 2021 season is brutal. How many England players will actually make it through?

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10 Ashes Tests in a row was such a good idea and went so well that the ECB thought to themselves: “Say, why don’t we play nine Tests on the bounce against India? Let’s really focus on that.

Then, while they were all patting themselves on the backs for having such a brilliant idea, someone added: “Then immediately after that let’s have the World T20 and then an Ashes.”

All of this happens within a year.

This is not a Covid thing. This is how 2021 was originally scheduled. (In fact this is an updated version of an article we wrote in June 2018.)

The India bit

Okay, technically it’s not actually nine Tests in a row because they’ve crowbarred a two-Test series against New Zealand into the middle. There’ll also be the IPL in April and May and limited overs series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in July.

But the point still stands. England are again due to play two huge Test series against the exact same opposition in a timespan of about eight months.

This is two things:

  1. Overly repetitive
  2. Unfair on the players

When England played two successive five-match series against the same opposition in 2013, the team imploded and one of the players ended up needing treatment from a mental health professional. This was not even slightly a coincidence.

The really big events (Tests against India, Tests against Australia, World Cups) bring increased stress levels long before they actually take place. Even if a player gets a physical rest in between, the mental stresses generally remain.

Speaking about his downtime between international fixtures for those back-to-back Ashes series, Jonathan Trott said: “The three weeks in between wasn’t time off because I was working hard in the nets.”

This is why, when we wrote about overtraining/burnout* for Cricinfo a few years back, we asked whether it was actually responsible to play international cricket without an off season. Switching off is not an easy thing to do when the next major engagement is already rapidly approaching.

*Overtraining is not just a physical thing.

“It’s what they’re paid to do”

Yes, exactly. It’s their job; it’s their livelihood. Everything’s riding on it. And if that weren’t enough, cricket is also for many players pretty much their whole personal identity.

For cricketers who do nothing but play cricket and who are forever being told that the next batch of cricket coming up is really very significant, their whole emotional wellbeing is bound up in how things go on the field. When things don’t go well on the field, things don’t go so well off the field either.

Dr Richard Winsley of the University of Exeter told us that major non-playing stresses for a sportsman include frequent fixtures, competition for places and travel. England’s players will be getting plenty of those even before you get to another one he mentioned: being apart from family and friends for long periods in foreign hotel rooms. That one seems even more relevant when you consider the current arrangements for players on tour.

The demands on a cricketer don’t just boil down to cricket. These are the things that eat away at you and wear you to a nub even when you’re supposedly ‘resting’.

England’s big fixtures in 2021

Let’s bullet point England’s major 2021 engagements (there are actually a fair number of one-day series in addition to this).

As you look at this, try and imagine how you would switch off and recover if your whole career hinged on making runs or taking wickets in these matches.

  • February-March: four Tests against India
  • August-September: five Tests against India
  • October-November: World T20
  • November onwards: The Ashes

That is nuts. We’ve skipped over the IPL and the lower profile Test and limited overs series here and there is still basically zero downtime for the second half of the year.

It’s really hard to look at that fixture list without envisaging mental casualties.

This is an updated version of an article first published in June 2018.

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  1. Good to see too that despite pretty much destroying their players, England won’t spend any of that time bothering with Zimbabwe or Afghanistan and won’t play Bangladesh at home (making it at least 13 years without them touring). Shakib will probably only tour England once in his whole career (a 2 Test and 3 ODI series), but never mind. They won’t need to bother with Sri Lanka in Tests at home either.

    More concerning, while they will play Australia in some sort of Test and/or LO tour in 2017, 2018, 2019,2020,2021,2022 and 2023, they might not play India at all in 2019 or 2020. Some would say that 10 Tests and almost certainly at least 6 ODIs and 6 T20s in 2021 will make up for it, but I will probably have lost interest in cricket in that 2 year gap where they don’t play each other at all.

    1. I don’t want England to play any team more frequently than once at home every four years, and the same away, two years separated.

      I am sick to death of games against Australia. Even this series, amusing though the results have been. There’s no anticipation when we play them every three months.

      1. By way of contrast, daneel, if the Leicestershire fans had chanted, “can we play you every week?” in the direction of small group of Middlesex faithful at Grace Road, the Middlesex supporters could have responded, “no – in fact you can’t even play us once more time this season, because the second division tournament is a lopsided, half-baked contrivance”…

        …these are not great chants, but you get my point.

      2. One has to suspect that they wouldn’t be chanting that now.

        Leics really are hopeless. Although even this combined with the Durham debacle still leaves them with three or four seasons’ worth of wins this year.

      3. What an extraordinary game of cricket.

        Leicestershire really are not hopeless, daneel. Middlesex were poor one days one and two but it still took good cricket on Leicestershire’s part for them to be all over Middlesex like a rash.

        I saw the first three days in full – I didn’t see today’s play – but the Leicestershire bowling was good last night and by all accounts was fine today. The pitch didn’t continue to deteriorate beyond teatime yesterday – throughout the match it was a good pitch with just a bit of variable bounce – nothing for the spinners. Once a decent batsman got set it was hard to dislodge him, but there was always the chance that the odd ball would misbehave off a length.

        I was very impressed with Raine, Chappell and Griffiths – all three home grown players and all three look like good all-round cricketers…by which I mean bowling all-rounders.

        OK, “can we play you every week?” wouldn’t be the chant, but “can we have first class cricket of that calibre every week?” would be a valid question, deserving the answer,..

        …”yes, except I’m not sure that my nerves could take it”.

      4. I’m being unfair, I know. Nixon has got them playing much better this year – and the bowling does seem to be a step up from the recent past. Chappell I know is very highly regarded – which probably means he’s off to Notts before long.

        I think I need to take a mental health break from my bat and ball teams; both Leics and the Seattle Mariners have decided to move on from being generically bad to teasing their supporters with a glimmer of hope before snatching it away.

        I really don’t mind Leics losing (it would have been a tough 10 years if I did), but I really could do with them not blowing it when in such strong positions. (insert hope/despair Clockwise quote here).

        Seattle hauled themselves into contention with an extended run of one-run victories before deciding to go with a new tactic of blowing huge leads in humiliating fashion (twice in one game yesterday) . The truth is really that they had a long run of fixtures against poor sides and they’re regressing to the mean against the good ones, but it’s still really annoying.

  2. Yeah, it’s an ‘orphan’ series with no Tests, half the Australian team is banned or injured, and there were a lot of other things going on today, but when a cricket fan is tired of watching Australia lose a series 5-0, they are tired of life.

    1. In one weekend, England teams won in cricket, football, rugby league and rugby union, while an Englishman won in the Formula 1.

      The England women’s team lost their T20 against South Africa but won their T20 against New Zealand. These double-headers are confusing, are we allowed to count the win towards the total or does that mean we need to include the loss as well?

      1. As Rio Ferdinand said when the score was 5-0, you have to remember that the opposition probably wasn’t even up to non-league standard.

        I assume he was discussing the cricket.

  3. Getting a retro flavour from the comments here 🙂

    Perhaps it would be better to just post it as a new article even if it is mostly a copy’n’paste job?

    But I can only congratulate your foresight yer man. You saw this one well and truly coming. Still can’t get my head around why this was thought to be a good idea? Even from a commercial perspective, playing against a big-name side makes more sense to spread out, so you don’t dilute the value of the second (“return”) series.

      1. That is also true!

        I like the idea of a “crowd”, “chanting”. Whenever was such a thing acceptable?

  4. I love the fact that in the cricinfo piece by Dan Brettig Langer is quoted as saying ‘he loves every part of his job, including the criticism’. Elite criticism obviously. He must be a draining individual to hang around.

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