It has been 15 years since England played in Pakistan, a stretch that feels, nowadays, more than half a lifetime ago. They may go back there again in January. Wasim Khan, the chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board, has invited them out to play three Twenty20 games in the new year. And given the efforts Pakistan made to help the England and Wales Cricket Board fulfil its own fixture list by touring here during lockdown in the summer, the ECB is bound to agree. The difficulty is England are also supposed to play two Tests against Sri Lanka around the same time, and have a five‑Test series against India lined up soon afterwards.
So it’s going to be a long, busy winter. And unless the ECB’s research department is about to announce some radical new advances in quantum mechanics, it may be that the only way through it is going to be for the ECB to send separate squads on simultaneous tours. It wouldn’t be the first time.
In 1930 England played two Tests on the same day, one against West Indies in Bridgetown, the other, 9,000‑odd miles away, against New Zealand in Christchurch. They had to rope in a few veterans to do it, the team that played in the West Indies included two players in their 50s, but they still managed to win one and draw the other.
More recently (and relevantly) in 2017 Australia started a Test against India in Pune the day after they played a T20 against Sri Lanka in Adelaide. Their head coach, Justin Langer, said in a recent interview with SEN radio that he didn’t want to see anything like that happen again. “We’re one country aren’t we, we’re not two countries, and we’re one sport. This year I understand there are complexities to it. Let’s say we have to take 18 players to New Zealand and we’ve got to take 18 players to South Africa, that’s 36 players out of the back end of the Sheffield Shield. That’s before any injuries that will inevitably happen.”
Langer admitted they may not have much choice this season. But he is also worried it may set a precedent, that a temporary fix for the congestion caused by the pandemic could become a permanent solution for the conflicting demands of the chaotic schedule.
They say it’s a source of strength that cricket has three different formats that can cater for three different audiences. But it is also a source of tension. The sport is being pulled in different directions. It’s fodder for the broadcasters, and great fun for the fans, who get to enjoy wall-to-wall sport, but it is going to be a stress for the players, who are stuck in the middle.
They are already trying to straddle first-class, franchise, international, red-ball and white-ball cricket, and that’s before the ECB throws in a fourth format when it launches the Hundred next summer. Everyone wants to play everything, but it’s just about impossible for anyone to actually do it.