England Test captain Ben Stokes retired from one-day international cricket in July and issued a strong warning about the future of the game.
Four months later, when England and Australia started an ODI series just four days after the T20 World Cup final, those words felt more relevant than ever.
It was clear that England, who had shipped half their T20 champions off to Pakistan to prepare for the upcoming Test series, were not at the races – and understandably so. T20 World Cup winning captain Jos Buttler echoed the statement of his team-mate.
“Lots of people are talking about how to keep bilateral cricket relevant and this series is a good example of how not to do that,” said Buttler, after England’s record ODI defeat.
“One of the biggest things is having overlapping series. We’ve got a group of players preparing for a Test series in Pakistan and we’ve got another group playing here at the same time.”
There were moments for England to celebrate in the series. Dawid Malan’s classy century at Adelaide, as well as Sam Billings and James Vince’s half-centuries at Sydney upon their returns to the white-ball set-up.
But with more and more players dropping out of franchise leagues because of increasing workloads, and feeling torn across three formats, the debate around cricket’s increasingly packed schedule seems to have reached a boiling point.
“I feel a bit for the players to be honest, the ones who are young and coming into the game at the moment,” added Buttler.
“They want to play all formats, but I don’t think the schedule allows you to.”
The scenes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) after England’s 221-run crushing could not have been more contrasting to those nine days earlier, when Buttler’s side lifted the T20 World Cup trophy at the same ground.
In a game that lacked both intensity and purpose, England collapsed to 142 all out and looked like their flight home could not come quickly enough.
“Some of those dismissals suggest it’s not even half of their minds on the aeroplane, it was all of their minds on the aeroplane home,” said former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior on BT Sport.
“Some of it is justified. It’s been a crazy schedule, everyone has spoken about it.
“You can’t get away from the fact that if you push the players, keep playing them time and again, putting them in pressure situations with the intensity around it, without the opportunity to prepare, this is the result.”
The ODI series also fell flat in terms of its crowd numbers, which was particularly noticeable at the colossal MCG that is usually such a fortress for Australian sides.
But David Warner, the Player of the Series, expressed his understanding of the fans’ situation.
“It’s challenging for the crowds,” reflected Warner.
“I’m not going to go into politics, but financially at the moment it’s a lot to ask people to fork out to come to these games when they can watch it on TV.
“It’s important to have that in mind and we respect and appreciate everyone who does come to support us.”
He also noted the difficulty for England’s players coming into the series off the back of a World Cup triumph, and said he feels like Australia have reached the end of their summer given how much cricket they have already played.
“It’s extremely difficult on the emotional side of things, you have to put all your time and effort in to one format now and for us it’s Tests.
“Obviously we put a lot of energy into the World Cup, but here everyone’s just trying to conserve their energy for the Tests.
“England are preparing for their Tests against Pakistan, India are in New Zealand. We understand there’s still a lot of catching up happening because of Covid, but I think we definitely have to be mindful of it.”
For both sides, attention now switches to red-ball cricket with Australia hosting West Indies in a two-Test series starting next Wednesday, while England begin their three-match tour of Pakistan a day later.