Beginning of the end of all-format cricketers?

The days of all-format cricketers are numbered. It’s hard to predict precisely when the proverbial last straw will break the camel’s back. What can be said is that it will happen, sooner than later.

Last month, when England’s Ben Stokes announced retirement from the one-day internationals, his message was loud and clear: “three formats are just unsustainable… because of the schedule and what is expected of us (players).”

New Zealand’s Trent Boult, latest all-format player to join the growing list of players who are moving away from international cricket, didn’t say it as explicitly but he highlighted the need to spend more time with his wife and children. “Family has always been the biggest motivator for me and I feel comfortable with putting it first and preparing ourselves for life after cricket.”

Last December, South Africa’s Quinton de Kock also expressed the desire for more family time when he retired from Test cricket at the age of 29.

They all have been victims of cricket’s insanely busy schedule that keeps players away from home for long durations and doesn’t allow enough down time.

Just sample India’s whirlwind schedule since 2022 Indian Premier League (IPL) final on May 29:

In just 72 days, Indian cricket team has had 26 match days — i.e. a match every third day.

Let’s expand on it.

A common year consists of 365 days, further divided into 52 weeks. Assuming two off days per week, a year has around 261 active days (when a person is active for the purpose of doing his/her job). Then there are holidays and paid leaves. After deducting those, an average person is likely to be active for around 220-30 days in a year.

Active days for officegoers usually involve a combination of reading, writing, planning, meetings, phone calls and other non-physical work. The most arduous form of physical work that an average officegoer undergoes is the journey between home and office. What modern-day international cricketers do with their bodies just to prepare for their main job, i.e. playing matches, will make your jaws drop.

Indian cricket (don’t mistake it with Indian cricketers!) has already had 195 ‘active days’, including 64 days of the IPL, this year which has only completed 224 days (from 1 January 2022 to 10 August 2022).

A cricketer’s ‘active days’ can be divided into three parts:

  1. Match days
  2. Training, rest and recovery days
  3. Travel days

But before we move ahead, let’s understand how we arrived at this number of 195 active days.

As, and if, you read further, you will realise that the said number is not exact, for certain things had to be assumed, like the break between two matches, training days before a series and travelling days. But you will realise the exact number couldn’t be too different. Then these assumed numbers were added to the number of match days, which is also different from number of matches. A Test match, for example, is of five-day duration. (But not all Test matches last the distance.)

The grind starts with the travel. For an overseas series, a team has to first gather at one place before boarding a flight together and then spending at least one day in their hotel to get rid of the jet lag. In all, three to four days are required for players to travel abroad and be ready to start training.

Any team would then require at least two to four days of training to be match-ready. It could be more in case of Tests as teams also play practice/tour matches. For the purpose of calculation, let’s have two days for white-ball matches and four days for red-ball cricket.

Third part is the break between matches. The break may sound like a period of no activity, it’s anything but. The process of recovery and preparation for the next game involves a lot of activities, which are sometimes as gruelling as the match itself. On an average, teams get at least a one-day break between two white-ball games. For Tests, it’s at least three days.

For detailed calculations, see Table 3.

No player, however, was active on all days — it’s not humanly possible — with either injuries, sabbatical or board-mandated rest coming to the rescue. But let’s try and imagine a cricketer playing all the matches and staying active on all days, do you see him surviving this unending marathon?

Though this punishing schedule affects all, the worst-affected are the all-format players, especially fast bowlers (Boult) and multi-skill cricketers like allrounders (Stokes) and wicketkeepers (de Kock). But the Virat Kohlis and David Warners are impacted as much because of the intensity they display on the field.

The evolution of the third format, Twenty20, and its proliferation through franchise leagues has done two things: it has crowded the calendar and brought in never-seen-before money.

This packed cricket schedule, partly aided by the ICC’s push for one big event every year but mostly the growing number of T20 leagues across the world, has no window for players to have some down time without missing a series or two.

But no player can afford to ignore the T20 leagues. There is too much money available to make. This year, Rishabh Pant earned Rs 16 crore for playing 14 IPL matches. For India, he has already played 27 matches so far and earned only Rs 1.68 crore. Even if you add Rs 5 crore that he gets through the central contract that he signed with the BCCI, it doesn’t come close to his IPL earnings.

Players are already grappling with the hard choices that they will have to make to bring about a balance where they can maximise their career earnings, bring glory to their country and also have time to spend with their families. Dropping one international format can bring some of that balance. For how long, that’s a question for the future. Right now, all-format players are at risk of serious burn out.

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