NASSER HUSSAIN: It’s so wrong to treat our Test stars like pieces of meat
There was a moment on Friday when I looked down at the action and wondered: why do we treat our international cricketers like pieces of meat?
It was a farcical scene. England’s last man Ollie Robinson played a pull shot and shuffled to the other end, struggling with a persistent back spasm, Ben Stokes limping around in the center of the field and Australia captain Pat Cummins nearly knocked out.
Just days after a physically and mentally exhausting match at Lord’s, and two weeks after an emotional ring of a first Ashes Test went into the last few hours, we watched them battle it all out again and the madness of the schedule hit me.
Simple changes would make all the difference. There are nine days between this match and the fourth Test in Manchester, so why only three days between this and the second. Why not make it four and eight and give the players an extra 24 hours of rest?
Why does the test have to start on Thursday, when starting on Friday would preserve game over the weekend? Watch your cricketers. Remember, it’s only been a year since Stokes, one of the game’s greatest assets, dropped out of one-day internationals due to an impossible workload. When Stokes gets into the fold and produces his swashbuckling, bar-legend performances, the whole country takes notice and the rest of the world tunes in too. He is a remarkable cricketer who can hit the ball into the Western Terrace even on one leg. But it shouldn’t be like that.
England captain Ben Stokes delivered a reckless performance despite a leg injury
England’s Ollie Robinson was forced off the field after struggling with a persistent back spasm
This would never happen in football. You wouldn’t have half-injured players trying to win big trophies. Can you imagine Pep Guardiola starting someone half fit for Manchester City?
Of course Stokes has to play because he is Ben Stokes. But he came here as a specialist batsman because he bowled 12 overs in a row at Lord’s last week and his knee won’t allow him to do that sort of thing again so soon.
That means England had to play five bowlers in Leeds. You cannot choose Ben Foakes as wicket-keeper in that scenario.
When Ollie Pope got injured – and I can’t believe the umpires let him out last week after he dislocated his shoulder – they should have considered playing Jonny Bairstow as a batter, because that was where his success lay last year. But because Stokes can’t bowl, they also had to bring in an extra bowler and that ruled out the Foakes option.
So they called in Mark Wood and Chris Woakes and promised to look after them as they haven’t played much lately.
Wood was brilliantly managed by Stokes on the first day, limited to nine overs until tea and short sharp spells. England don’t want to risk losing their first fast bowler. Such subplots are frustrating but also intriguing.
England actually went into the Ashes undercooked, while Australia was ready, after winning the World Test Championship, and if England got back into this series it would put pressure on Australia and their bowlers, and in particular captain Cummins to make.
If Australia wins this one, Cummins can rest for the next one, because the ashes are ready. Someone else can captain.
However, if he loses, he will be forced to enter five games in a row. Lose the next and it would be six at the Oval.
England staying in the series for as long as possible pushes the opposition captain to their physical limits.
England have had to manage the workload for Mark Wood (above) and Chris Woakes
But should the pinnacle of Test cricket be like this? This is the series you should peak at. One with the best English and Australian cricketers going head-to-head.
Yes, injuries are part of sport, but these guys shouldn’t be so bad on the biggest stage. That wouldn’t happen in any other sport.
We’ve been lucky enough to see Wood’s theater pouring in and I’ve always enjoyed watching extreme pace, so it reminded me of what a shame it was not to see this kid again.
You don’t want to see the likes of Stokes, Wood and Cummins retreat into an IPL sunset for a long time, and if we continue to treat them like this, we risk it.