Was England vs. Australia ODI Series in September a Waste of Time?
Watching the concluded ODI series between England and Australia has been rather akin to witnessing a support act take to the stage after a triumphant performance from your favourite rock band.
The audience has headed to the doors, the bar has long since shut and the venue has rapidly lost the euphoric atmosphere it possessed just minutes earlier.
Despite knowing that another potentially-compelling performance is on its way, the moment has passed, your mind has checked out.
Yet that's exactly what the ODI series represented. Instead of being a precursor to cricket's glittering diamond, the Ashes, the series became an oddly-stale aftertaste for what was a delicious main meal.
Of course, it isn't easy to follow up a captivating performance—our hearts and minds crave for finales that punctuate the whole show, conclusions with glory and despair hinging on their outcome. In that sense, the ODI series was undoubtedly worthless, a dull exhibition of cricket without consequence.
However, the lack of excitement in the series was due to far more than simply being forced to follow a captivating Ashes campaign.
The length of this summer of cricket has simply been too long for even the game's most staunch supporters.
England and New Zealand kicked it all off way back in May, an incredibly early start to the season, one that began with the United Kingdom barely out of a rather wicked winter.
New Zealand's visit contained two Tests, three ODIs and a further two Twenty20 Internationals. Wedged between that was the packed ICC Champions Trophy schedule, ripping away the usual dates for a far more favourable pre-Ashes ODI series.
Then, of course, came the Ashes, but international fixtures weren't the only games of cricket competing for the public's attention.
The county championship ran in the background; so too did the Friends Life T20 and Yorkshire Bank 40 limited overs competitions.
Finding a game of cricket this summer has been easier to come by than a Sunday morning hangover.
Yet that hangover was another part of the ODI series' problems. Instead of the season ending with the game's greatest showpiece, allowing us to bathe in the beauty of Test cricket, the undesirable fixtures of Australia's visit have leaked into the part of the calendar owned by football.
Cricket and its organisers simply can't expect the game to thrive in the month of September—the sport simply can't hold sway against the tidal wave that is the global game.
Expecting viewers to select an inconsequential limited overs match over a Premier League fixture is like expecting an ugly Ian Bell cover drive.
Such is the allegiance that fans feel towards their football clubs, such is the emotional investment, it is impossible for cricket simultaneously to rival the game for passion and fervour.
Perhaps the clouds above in this wet September are doing their best to remind the ICC that cricket is not welcome at this time of year. Two washouts and other interruptions tested the extreme patience of the precious few who retained an interest in the ODI series.
Yet through all this remains a glaring contradiction. While the ODI series was as useful as a Simon Kerrigan at The Oval for the game's fans, it proved to be a valuable exercise for both of the teams involved.
For England, the series represented an ideal opportunity to unearth the country's next generation, while concurrently resting the team's incumbents. Boyd Rankin, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Jordan and Jamie Overton were all given time in the national team setup, as the selectors carefully keep one eye on the road well ahead.
Stokes looks to be a genuine all-rounder of the future, Buttler a potential long-term replacement for Matt Prior, while Rankin, Overton and Jordan will feature in the selectors' minds in coming months.
Meanwhile, Michael Carberry, Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Steven Finn and James Tredwell were all given time in England colours, ensuring that a large crop of players have experienced substantial international cricket this summer.
Cleverly, England are taking the required and preventative measures to ensure their glorious era doesn't come crashing down in a manner similar to that of their fiercest rival.
For that rival, Australia, the ODI series rendered the chance for the team to regain the feeling of victory. Such has been the country's plight in recent times, claiming a trophy of any sort had become vital for the Australians.
After the catastrophic tour to India, a winless Champions Trophy campaign and an Ashes defeat, Australia desperately needed to find a source of confidence as they begin another quest in search of the Urn.
Mitchell Johnson showed glimpses of his former magic, George Bailey distinguished himself, Clint McKay claimed a hat-trick and Aaron Finch announced his abilities.
Captain Michael Clarke and Shane Watson also got amongst the runs. Only Matthew Wade's performance detracted from the visitors' campaign.
With the public's attention diverted, Australia quietly emerged as a rejuvenated bunch despite a horror year to date.
All of which complicates the issue of the ODI series' worth. While it became an unsavoury ending to an arduous marathon for the game's fans, the series was a beneficial exercise for the teams involved in rather contrasting ways.
However, that doesn't hide the lack of the series' appeal, the lack of even mediocre interest from cricket's loyal audience.
The game is entertainment, cricket is a business, a business which should know better than to send out its support band after the main act.
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