By KSHVID NEWS DESK.
London: It seems somewhat ironic that the man who was one of the most critical members of an England team that finally tasted World Cup success won’t be around to help them defend it. Ben Stokes’ out-of-the-blue retirement from the 50-over format of the game has shocked fans, experts and even cricket administrators. Literally, no one saw it coming, even after the all-rounder was given the additional responsibility of leading the test team.
The fans had some good reasons to think otherwise. For starters, Stokes is still 31 and should be in the prime of his career in terms of his physical and mental strength. Another reason, perhaps the most telling, is that England have a World Cup to defend in just over a year’s time in India. But what led to such a drastic decision from England’s talismanic all-rounder?
Well, if you read his official statement after his decision to retire, his reasons were pretty clear. He was playing too much cricket. So much so that his body is on the verge of giving up.
“Three formats are just unsustainable for me now. Not only do I feel that my body is letting me down because of the schedule and what is expected of us, but I also feel that I am taking the place of another player who can give Jos and the rest of the team their all.” Stokes said in a statement.
Stokes has already played 4 tests in the English summer this year – three against New Zealand and one against India. That is four highly-intense and energy-sapping tests against two of the best teams in the world, all in the space of a month. He is yet to play in what will be another gruelling test series aginst the South Africans next month.
But England have always played more Test cricket than any other nation in the world. Perhaps, it is the growing number of white-ball games over the past couple of years that has led him to this decision. While England’s test team was competing against New Zealand, the ECB saw it fit to arrange a 3-match ODI series against the Netherlands with plenty of first-team stars missing from the side.
Although he took a well-deserved break from the T20I series against India, he returned for the 3 ODI’s and looked jaded, to say the least. That showed in his performances as he looked in horrible touch, scoring 48 runs and bowling just 3 overs in the entire series. Stokes has had his share of form slumps in his long career but this was probably the first time his presence was not felt during the course of a series, either with the bat, ball or on the field. He wasn’t giving it his all.
He, more or less, looked like a passenger in the team. And Stokes isn’t the one to hang around knowing the fact that he won’t be giving his 100% to the team. He admitted the same in his statement where he said: As hard as a decision as this was to come to, it’s not as hard dealing with the fact I can’t give my teammates 100% of myself in this format anymore. The England shirt deserves nothing less from anyone who wears it.”
The ODI series opener against India was the first time the “fab five” of Bairstow, Roy, Root, Stokes and Buttler played together in a 50-over game since the World Cup final in 2019. It is a damning verdict on the current state of the English cricket calendar that their best players haven’t played together in three years.
Stokes is not alone in the group of players who gave up one format to prolong their careers or in some cases, gave up the game altogether. There were warning signs when Stokes’ fellow countryman Kevin Pieterson retired from ODI cricket due to the intensity of the calendar way back in 2012.
“I once said the schedule was horrendous and I couldn’t cope, so I retired from ODI cricket & the ECB banned me from T20s too…………” Pietersen wrote in a tweet. It has been a long time since his close mates James Anderson and Stuart Broad gave up white-ball cricket, which enabled them to play more than 150 test matches. Root’s T20I career is virtually over.
Alaister Cook, who is probably still the best opener in England, retired from international cricket altogether at 33, saying there was “nothing left in the tank.” AB De Villiers and Faf du Plessis retired citing the same reason but have continued to dazzle in the IPL.
Stokes’ retirement raises another important issue in the modern-game – which is the wider relevance of the 50-over format. T20 cricket and franchise leagues is where the money is for both the players and cricket boards and hence will continue to grow. Test cricket, although the costliest format, is still regarded as the pinnacle of the sport and all full-member nations have pledged to play the format at least until 2029.
This puts the 50-over game in no man’s land. There are all sorts of opinions going around to make the format more interesting. Shoaib Akthar suggested ODI cricket should be reduced to 40 overs to make it more exciting, while Ravi Shastri and Michael Vaughan proposed restricting ODI cricket to just World Cups.
But expect nothing to change as England will play 42 Tests, 44 ODIs and 52 T20I’s over the next four years. Stokes is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to succumb to the pressures of the modern game, but while going out has sent a clear message to the cricket boards across the world.
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