Is Ben Stokes’ ODI retirement the beginning of the end for all-format players?

He reaffirmed that he is also planning to give his “total commitment” to the T20 format for England, despite having not played a T20 International in the last year and a half. He missed last year’s T20 World Cup while he took a break from cricket to prioritise his mental health.

One of the best all-rounders in the game, the 31-year-old averaged 41.79 with the ball and 39.44 with the bat across his 11-year-career in the 50-over format. His contributions in England’s middle order – including an unbeaten 84 at Lord’s in the 2019 World Cup final – have been crucial to the team’s success.

Stokes will also be sitting out the T20I series against South Africa, and The Hundred franchise tournament for the Northern Superchargers. His next opportunity to prepare for the T20 World Cup in Australia will potentially come in the seven-match T20 series against Pakistan in September.

Cricket overload

Stokes’ retirement, and of those who could potentially follow in his footsteps, is emblematic of a larger headache for cricket administrators. With cricket played year-round, and franchise T20 leagues becoming more powerful and taking up more of the calendar, it is unrealistic for an all-rounder like Stokes, particularly as a pace bowler, to be able to cope with the rigours of international cricket across all formats.

After his match-winning performance against England at Old Trafford on Sunday, Hardik Pandya alluded to the situation when asked whether he wishes to be seen as an all-format player for India in the future.

“I go by what the professionals say. By what the physios and my trainers say. I don’t use my brain unnecessarily, I use it when it is required, on the field. For when to play and where to play, I listen to professionals. It is not up to me,” he said. Pandya’s last Test appearance was against England in September 2018.

ODIs, particularly bilateral series, could be the format that suffers most: their popularity is falling in the face of T20s becoming the primary form of limited-overs cricket thanks to the explosion of franchise tournaments.

England are scheduled to play 16 limited-overs matches before the T20 World Cup in October, and The Hundred, featuring the country’s best limited-overs players, will also be played in August.

In a schedule as packed as this, too many players will opt out or be rested to prioritise their fitness and freshness. Other top cricketing countries will also likely feature entirely separate teams for bilateral series in separate formats, as India did for its two T20Is against Ireland while the Test team prepared for the series decider against England.

With franchise cricket being played across the year, bilateral series piling up in the schedule, and separate teams being assembled for separate series, even for players as versatile and efficient as Stokes, all-format cricket at the international level is unlikely to be the way forward.

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