England’s cricketers have had one of their busiest seasons yet – but by far their biggest challenge is to come. This week, they begin a five-Test series in India, the first of that duration in more than 30 years. And then? Next year sees the longest international home season in their history, with Test series, ODIs and T20s against South Africa and West Indies – and the Champions Trophy.
With more cricket being played than ever, it’s little wonder records are tumbling: Alastair Cook recently became the most capped England Test player and is the youngest player to score 7,000 Test runs. He also travelled to Bangladesh 18 hours after the birth of his second child to play in the First Test.
“Cook will have played 17 Tests by the end of the year,” says former England number three Jonathan Trott, whose career imploded in 2013 when he left the Ashes in Australia mid-series with a stress-related illness. And Cook isn’t the only hard-working England player. “Jonny Bairstow has already passed the record number of runs scored by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year – and he’s got five more Tests left before the end of the year,” adds Trott, who’s now a Sky pundit.
The subject of demanding schedules has a particular resonance for Trott. In a new book, he details in candid detail the psychological problems he suffered. Team-mates including Cook and Kevin Pietersen contribute their recollections of Trott’s state of mind when a poor batting performance in the face of the fearsome Australian bowler Mitchell Johnson overwhelmed him. “He [Trott] was completely broken and it was horrible to see,” writes Cook, who once saw his batting partner walk out to the middle in tears.
Trott v Mitchell Johnson, 2013
In one passage, Trott calls out the England and Wales Cricket Board for the gruelling schedule. “You would hope that the ECB might have learned their lesson,” he writes. “You would hope that they looked at the number of their players who were struggling psychologically by the end of 2013 and concluded that they were asking too much of them. But then you look at the England schedule for the winter of 2015–16 and you see that they have learned nothing.”
But when you ask Trott whether the demands of the schedule exacerbated his stress problem in 2013, he’s less certain. “I think everyone else survived,” he says. “For me, it wasn’t about too much cricket, it was just dealing with the game. Everyone else seemed fine.”
That doesn’t mean there need be no concern about the amount of cricket England is required to play. Jimmy Anderson, 34, has bowled an incredible 26,366 balls in his Test career. South Africa’s Dale Steyn, one year younger and one place higher in the current player rankings, has bowled 17,210. Anderson is missing at least the First Test against India through injury.
“There needs to be more of a balance,” Trott says, adding, “When I went to Australia, we had a month’s preparation, and only three days off in a month. When you’re under pressure and scrutiny, you need a bit of time off. Maybe old guys like me should just adjust. The younger guys seem to be OK.” The last time England toured India, in 2012, they secured a rare series win. Trott was a key element of that side, but is worried that this time Cook is without three key ingredients: “Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and a fit Jimmy Anderson. If you look at the side we had, a lot of them will go down in the history books.”
The “younger guys” will doubtless fill in ably – but how long will it be before they too are looking for the exit?
First Test: India v England is on at 3:30am on Tuesday on Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports 2