Stern Words September 14, 2006

Does anybody really care?

The question is: are England lousy at one-day cricket because they're indifferent to it or are they indifferent to it because they're lousy at it?

It's an ODI trophy...but does anyone really care? © Getty Images

The question is: are England lousy at one-day cricket because they're indifferent to it or are they indifferent to it because they're lousy at it?

Bat-and-ball agnostics in England are conditioned to think by the unbelievers that cricket is a complicated and elitist sport. So it is not an enormous mental leap to accept that matches which last five days and may not produce a result are the blue riband events.

Even those who prefer to quaff their ICC-legitimised beverages at a one-dayer rather than a five-dayer do not pretend that the results of the former outweigh the latter.

Stuart Broad's omission from England's Champions Trophy squad will not be the subject of heated pub debate. Ashley Giles's fitness for the Ashes is.

Matthew Hoggard was asked back in April whether he would prefer to win the Ashes or the World Cup? He answered Ashes without hesitation and qualified his opinion by saying: "Any team on their day can win the World Cup." Except England, obviously, who have appeared in three finals without success and have been an embarrassment in each of the past three tournaments.

For England, overseas one-day series have become inconvenient appendices to gruelling tours after the serious business has been conducted. It is rare for them to get their strongest XI on the field. The same was true of the home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan this summer. And the Champions Trophy will be little more than glorified net practice for England's wounded Ashes hopefuls.

Since January 1, 2000 England have awarded 44 new one-day international caps, only three fewer than Australia and Pakistan put together over the same period. England introduce a new player on average once every three matches. Australia blood a rookie once in eight matches, Pakistan one in seven and India one in five.

Duncan Fletcher said last year that the reason for the chopping and changing was the search for "the right formula". Yet one of the cornerstones of England's success in the Test arena has been the consistency of selection. Players have been picked and backed, in sickness and in health. The results are self-evident.

The reality is that because England play effectively 10 or 11 months of the year the opportunity for proper rest for their key players is limited. Something has to give and one-day success is that something.

England's enduring obsession with the Ashes will scale new peaks over the next few months. Is there an England player going to Australia who is even giving a passing thought to the World Cup next year? I doubt it. Will Freddie Flintoff be sparing himself at any point during the Ashes in November-December, worried about his readiness for St Lucia in April? No chance.

And no England fan would have it any other way. For supporters with the money and inclination, the Ashes is a far hotter ticket than the World Cup.

Hoggard doesn't speak only for himself. Maybe Napoleon was wrong. Britain isn't a nation of shopkeepers, they're a nation of seam bowlers. And limited-overs cricket is just a bit undignified.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer