ECB defends tour scheduling amid washout threat

Each of England's five matches on their tour of Sri Lanka has been affected by monsoonal weather

George Dobell
George Dobell
The covers were on and off as the toss was delayed, Sri Lanka v England, 3rd ODI, Pallekele, October 17, 2018

The covers were on and off as the toss was delayed  •  AFP

The ECB has defended the scheduling of England's tour of Sri Lanka after yet another match was affected by rain.
The toss in the third ODI in Pallekele on Wednesday was delayed by more than five-and-a-half hours, meaning all three matches in the series have been affected by the weather. The first ODI was entirely lost to rain, while the second was decided by the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method when rain ended Sri Lanka's reply after 29 overs.
Both of England's warm-up matches were rain-affected, too, with one of them abandoned without a ball being bowled. There is no guarantee the weather will have improved by the time the Test series starts on November 6.
With the tour scheduled for monsoon season in Sri Lanka, such a scenario was grimly predictable. But the ECB has insisted that, such are the demands of the international fixture list, it had little option but to agree to playing "outside prime match-staging periods".
"In respect of touring Sri Lanka at this time of year: The Future Tours Programme is congested involving 13 Boards whose schedules all interconnect, so there are unfortunately a number of tours that have to take place outside prime match-staging periods," the ECB said, in a statement tweeted from its @Englandcricket account.
"After hosting England, Sri Lanka spend the rest of the '18-19 season touring New Zealand, Australia & South Africa. They play their first match in New Zealand on Dec 8, which left very little wriggle room given our final Test in Sri Lanka finishes on Nov 29."
While those dates are not quite accurate - the final Test will finish, if it lasts for five days, on November 27 - the point is valid. The first Test of Sri Lanka's New Zealand tour starts on December 14 and, within 13 days of the end of that series, they start another in Australia during which time they hope to play a warm-up match. Then, eight days after the scheduled end of that series on February 5, they are scheduled to start a Test in Durban.
The best periods in which to play cricket in Sri Lanka are mid-December to mid-March and mid-June to late September. But with England unavailable in the second window as it clashes with their home international season and Sri Lanka engaged in series elsewhere in the former window, the choice came down to either not touring at all - at least for a couple of years - or gambling with the weather. With cash-strapped boards keen to maximise every opportunity to sell broadcast rights, they took the latter option.
Whether that is a sustainable long-term ploy remains to be seen. Seeing games so severely affected by rain can do little to sustain the value of such broadcast deals, while spectators - some of whom have spent many thousands of pounds to travel - may also be unlikely to return.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo