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Ken Borland

Killing cricket’s designated Golden Goose

Posted on August 29, 2022 by Ken

Following Ben Stokes’ incredible heroics in winning England the 2019 World Cup, the all-rounder was almost officially designated as cricket’s golden goose, his golden eggs being the box-office draw he promised through his scintillating batting, ability to bowl match-turning spells and amazing catching.

Just three years later, that golden goose is almost on life support. Stokes hobbled his way out of ODI cricket this week, looking a shadow of the great player he is, well-beaten by the Proteas on his home ground at Chester-le-Street.

Fingers have been pointed at the England and Wales Cricket Board, and also the International Cricket Council, for the greed they have shown in their scheduling of matches. England have been expected to play 12 white-ball matches in 25 days this month, and their Test side has been playing at the same time as the T20 or ODI squad was preparing for matches against the Netherlands and India. If that’s not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs through diluting your product, then what is?

The ICC also now have a global white-ball event every year.

But it was most interesting to read the comments of another former England all-rounder (bowling), Derek Pringle, this week. The 63-year-old Pringle does not get quite the same amount of attention as the brilliant Athertons and Hussains of this world, perhaps because he is of an earlier generation, but his erudite views on the game are also full of cricketing nous.

Pringle pointed out in his column for the Metro that, in 1982/83, England played 10 ODIs in 25 days in the World Series tournament in Australia and none of those were in the yet-to-be-invented T20 format. Plus they travelled all over that vast land, the world’s sixth-largest country, straight after a five-match Ashes series.

But that doesn’t change the fact that today’s leading stars, playing for far greater riches than back in Pringle’s day, are battling to cope. The 31-year-old Stokes has not been helped by Covid bubbles, the death of his father and a perpetual knee niggle, as well as mental fatigue that saw him take a break from the game last year.

While I was privileged to be at the World Cup final at Lord’s on July 14, 2019 to watch Stokes fulfil his destiny as England’s most talismanic cricketer in an extraordinary triumph over New Zealand, that trumps the 438 game as the greatest ODI in my book, I was not overly surprised by his feats.

Back in February 2015 I had first laid eyes on him in the flesh, at the Mamelodi Oval of all places (and a lovely venue to boot). Playing for the England Lions against SA A, Stokes plundered an attack featuring Chris Morris, Marchant de Lange and David Wiese for 151 not out off just 86 balls, the left-hander smiting 15 mighty sixes. He then wrapped up the match with three wickets.

I had no doubt I had seen a future great.

The next January he scored his famous 258 off just 198 balls against South Africa in the Newlands New Years Test.

While there have been areas of his life off the field that have landed him in trouble (he is a red-head after all!), I have always liked Stokes as a person, too. On the field he is as competitive as they come, someone with an inspirational belief in his ability to pull off the impossible, but empathetic and supportive are the words most-often used to describe him in the changeroom.

Before the 2019 World Cup final, while travelling from Cardiff to Birmingham, we took a comfort break at one of the Services along the highway. England were on their way to Manchester to play Afghanistan and whose bladder should be co-ordinated with my own but Ben Stokes’s.

There he was in a cap and T-shirt, just wandering around without any pretences or ego.

I doubt he could have done that a month later after his sensational end to the tournament.

That is the Stokes we, as cricket lovers, want to see more of; get it sorted, please, administrators of the England and Wales Cricket Board and the ICC.

Look after your players, who are your product.

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