In cricket, as in life, everything is up in the air. The administrators, especially, are caught between the devil and the deep blue sky of lockdown. But as they struggle to squeeze the English season into three months from 1 July, one possibility has been mentioned in passing. Could the men’s team play two international series at the same time?
It helps that the fixture list was already looking like a tasting menu – three Tests against West Indies, three Twenty20s and three one-day internationals against Australia, three Tests and three T20s against Pakistan, and three ODIs against Ireland. There could still be time to fit most of them in but it would plainly be easier if formats were allowed to overlap. Eoin Morgan, the conductor of the white-ball orchestra, says he is open to anything. So let’s see how it might work.
In a sport that wears its history on its sleeve, people will wonder if there is a precedent. The Spin consulted the oracle – Steven Lynch, the deputy editor of Wisden, whose Ask Steven column on Cricinfo has been sorting factual disputes since 1997.
The answer was yes. “England had two Test tours going at once in 1929-30,” Lynch said. “To West Indies and New Zealand. Two England Tests started on 21 February, 1930 – Auckland and Georgetown.” The one in Georgetown was historic: West Indies’ first Test win, featuring twin hundreds from the great George Headley. Not for the last time England may have underestimated their opponents.
England have not played Test and one-day cricket at the same time but Australia very nearly did, quite recently. “February 2017,” Lynch said, crisply. “Australia played Sri Lanka in a T20 at Adelaide on 22 February. Next day, 15 hours later according to Wisden, they started the first Test v India at Pune.” And Australia won both games. (Quiz question: in India’s second innings, all 10 wickets fell to spin – four to Nathan Lyon but who took the other six? Answer at the bottom.)
Simultaneous series would require some lateral thinking. While England have two captains, Morgan and Joe Root, there is only one head coach, Chris Silverwood. But Paul Collingwood, one of the assistant coaches, was already due to take charge against Ireland, so he could be handed the whole white-ball season. Morgan will still be the real boss.
The scheduling would be dictated by coronavirus, plus some common sense. The two formats would be staged at opposite ends of the country, to reduce the chances of both being washed out.
If on-site hotels are essential, as has been mooted, the Test might be at Old Trafford and the one-dayers at the Rose Bowl near Southampton. With spectators unlikely to be invited, the one-day series could all be staged at the same ground, with reserve days, because there would be no travelling. A three-match series could be over in six days flat.
Now for the most interesting piece of the puzzle: selection. England, like Australia, field different teams in Test and one-day cricket, but not entirely different. The selectors, Ed Smith and James Taylor, could work out what to do with the most versatile players but it would be much more fun if Root and Morgan picked teams, the way we all did in the under-10s. The publicity would be worth something too. Cricket on The One Show!
Who would have first pick? Tradition says toss for it, but Morgan may argue it should be him because he would have already lost one regular – Root, still there in the 50-over side as the designated driver.
“So, Eoin,” says Alex Jones, “who’s your first pick?”
“Joe?” There’s a pause, as Root’s familiar smile gives way to a look that could kill. Then he brightens.
Jos Buttler, watching at home in London, is wondering which of them to feel more insulted by. Picking teams always did involve some pain and even if Morgan chooses him next, he still has an anxious wait to see who will take the Test place that was still his, just, when the series in Sri Lanka was called off.
It could be Jonny Bairstow, in which case Root will be pinching one of Morgan’s barnstorming openers. Or it could be Ben Foakes, who would then play a first home Test, 18 months after making his debut in Sri Lanka and looking like a senior player.
“Jos,” says Morgan, just about rescuing his relationship with his vice-captain.
“Jonny,” says Root, replacing one batsman-keeper with another. At home in Kent, Ed Smith raises an eyebrow. Somewhere in Surrey, Foakes wonders if there is another country he can qualify for before he retires.
Root may also be tempted to pick Moeen Ali, who took the winter off red-ball cricket. “If there was a Test match tomorrow and I got the call,” Moeen recently said, “I’d say yes.” But if Root sticks with Dom Bess, who shone in South Africa, the tug of love is over. Morgan can summon World Cup winners such as Jason Roy and Adil Rashid, give Tom Banton another try and reveal whether Alex Hales is still in the doghouse. Root can reel off Test regulars such as Ollie Pope and Stuart Broad while handing recalls to Rory Burns and Jimmy Anderson.
The two lineups may look like this. For the Tests: Burns, Sibley, Denly or Crawley, Root (capt), Pope, Bairstow (wkt), Sam Curran, Bess, Archer, Broad, Anderson, with Jack Leach as 12th man. For the one-dayers: Roy, Hales, Banton, Morgan (capt), Stokes, Buttler (wkt), Moeen, Woakes, Rashid, Tom Curran, Wood. Two decent teams, and one mouthwatering prospect: Anderson and Archer sharing the new ball, which could be like watching Richard Hadlee team up with Michael Holding.
For the cricket-loving public, it may be more straightforward than it looks. Unlike football fans, we’re used to seeing two teams we support play at once. We know that our sport, in Matthew Engel’s memorable phrase, is the background music of an English summer. We’ll tune in and out, quite happily, from 11am till 11pm. After the famine, not even cricket fans will moan about a glut.
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