ECB prioritising the Hundred has undermined the Ashes

Hundred finals day 2023 at Lord's - ECB prioritising the Hundred has undermined the Ashes

Celebration after last year’s Hundred finals day at Lord’s – Getty Images/Nathan Stirk

There will not be long to savour this Ashes series. The day after it ends, The Hundred carnival begins with a Trent Rockets-Southern Brave double header in Nottingham (One Week to Go! they posted on social media yesterday). Test cricket in England will be over on July 31 until July 10 next year.

This Ashes will have sparkled briefly, all over in 46 days. It is the shortest window ever for a five Test Ashes series in England and is caused by greed and the unstoppable forces of white ball cricket. There is no money in weeks off so the administrators have sacrificed giving the players a breather to cram in as much cricket, and therefore revenue, as possible.

This Test series has been buttressed by the IPL and The Hundred. Australia played the World Test Championship final against India as soon as the IPL was over, the match at the Oval starting just over a week after the final in Ahmedabad. This series ends on July 31 to give the Hundred a clear window in August when schools are closed for the whole month.

There were no such forces in play in the 2005 series which at this stage of the summer (July 25) was only reaching the end of the first Test at Lord’s.

The itinerary for this series was signed off by the previous board at the ECB, which lacked anyone with experience of playing men’s Test cricket, let alone an Ashes series. There was no permanent chairman and the Hundred was the main priority of a board that had invested so much in its new competition. Richard Thompson, the current chairman, has vowed there will always be Test cricket in August on his watch. Two Tests are scheduled to begin in August.

The hope was that some of the Australian stars such as David Warner, Steve Smith and Pat Cummins would stay on for The Hundred. But not a single member of the touring Ashes squad is playing in this year’s competition.

How many England players will have the energy or stomach for The Hundred remains to be seen too. Ben Stokes did not play in the competition last year and is not a lover of the format. Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, to name a few, will be desperate for a breather. Stuart Broad and James Anderson will be in the commentary box. The sums of money on offer in The Hundred are not going to tempt many away from the sun lounger for long.

Ticket sales for The Hundred are stronger than ever, however. The ECB have so far sold 460,000 tickets, a rise of five percent on the same stage last year, with 31 percent bought by females and 22 percent sold as junior tickets. A bounce after the men’s and women’s Ashes is welcome news.

Another reason put forward for the Ashes ending so early is to give teams time to prepare for the 50 over World Cup in October, although it is a slightly hollow argument given England’s white ball series against New Zealand and Ireland do not start until Aug 30, three days after The Hundred final. The Hundred takes precedence.

The IPL and The Hundred have left so little time that Australia will have played six Tests between June 7 and July 31, starting and finishing at the Oval, which represents three sets of physically and mentally draining back-to-back matches.

England's Chris Woakes receives treatment during training - ECB prioritising the Hundred has undermined the Ashes

England’s training session at the Oval was fairly relaxed and focused on recovery – Reuters/Action Images

Every Ashes since 2005 has fought against the creeping tide of Twenty20 cricket. The 2005 series was played across 53 days. It was 48 in 2009 (the first time it had to contend with the IPL), 47 in 2013, 48 in 2015 and the last series in 2019 lasted 47 days.

It shows modern players are used to playing five Tests in such shortish windows compared to their predecessors. The 2001 tour schedule for Australia looks as if it belonged to a different century, not this one, with a three day match at Arundel one of six first-class games outside the Test series, handy times for a break, played by the Australians.

England barely trained at the Oval on Tuesday: Stuart Broad just walked laps of the outfield listening to music, Anderson sent down a few tame overs to bowling coach David Saker, Chris Woakes had a look at the pitch and four players stayed at the hotel including captain Ben Stokes. Most were saving themselves for golf in the afternoon.

Australia had a fuller net session, that is generally the case for touring teams, but it was half hearted by both sets of players as they save as much energy as possible for the match. Pat Cummins and Broad are the only two bowlers to have appeared in every Test so far, and it is noticeable how the workload and short window have drained their bowling. Both had their quietest Tests of the summer at Old Trafford.

There will be some tired players this week and the Test would have benefited from starting on Friday and would be more intense cricket with the extra day between. Fast bowlers would have more juice in the tank. But this match will be decided by which side has the stamina to make the fewest mistakes. It will be entertaining, but not necessarily high quality to end on.

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