By the time the first Test between England and India gets under way in Nottingham next Wednesday, England’s Test squad will have had sixteen days since they previously took to the field when they were beaten by Sri Lanka in Headingley.
In that period, of the twelve players named in the squad to face Sri Lanka, only Moeen Ali will have represented his county in any format of cricket, and not once will he have done so in the ECB’s flagship event, the NatWest T20 Blast.
This season has seen the ECB throw a huge amount of weight behind their domestic T20 event, and one change from last season’s version is that the tournament is now spread throughout the season, rather than being played in a block.
The thinking behind this was that regular matches on Fridays would familiarise fans with an otherwise confusing schedule and increase attendances. It was also felt a more dispersed tournament would engender more appearances from England internationals.
The availability of England’s star players is not necessarily a guarantee or indeed a requisite of success for the tournament. Big local derbies and important matches generally attract good crowds, while the Big Bash League in Australia, not short on star names but not rife with Australian Test internationals, has had enormous success.
However, England’s T20 tournament is slightly different in that it has not had massive success as a standalone entity.
Changes and amendments to the format have been regular since 2009, and the ECB are desperately searching for the right formula to make the tournament work. Were the tournament a smoothly functioning success, the availability of England stars may not be so important.
Especially when you consider this season there are a number of big-name internationals appearing, such as Glenn Maxwell, Darren Sammy, Hashim Amla and Kevin Pietersen.
Yet despite the revamped and rebranded tournament, it would not be unfair to say the NatWest T20 Blast has not been a runaway success this season. It’s done all right. Crowds have been decent and interest has sizzled, but it’s not generated the results the money and effort poured into it would suggest it should.
That’s why it was so disappointing last week when it was announced that no England Test player would feature in the T20 Blast in between Test series.
As I’ve said, England stars shouldn’t really have to appear for the tournament to succeed, but when the T20 Blast has fizzled along as it has and when England’s Test players have such an extended break, allowing them to play in perhaps two Friday T20s could really have helped the tournament generate some momentum.
The prospect of seeing three or four star players may have made the difference between an average crowd and an excellent one.
Of course, the fitness of England’s players is the priority of the management, but with such a long window for them to appear, it would have been nice to see more flexibility and pragmatism between them and the ECB.