The ECB have refused to let Stuart Broad take part in Nottinghamshire’s visit to the Emirates ICG on Friday, despite a request from the club’s coach Peter Moores and Stuart Broad himself. This move is the latest in a series of ECB judgements on player availability that have caused frustration for clubs and fans alike.
Broad is highly unlikely to play any part in the upcoming Champions Trophy, which means that his next playing engagement with England will be the first Investec Test against South Africa at Lord’s on July 6. He is pencilled in to take part in more Specsavers County Championship matches this season, but the move by Andrew Strauss and the ECB to deny a senior cricketer’s request to play is bound to be controversial.
Allowing Broad to play would have been an alteration of his original rest schedule. However, Nottinghamshire argued that since Broad only bowled 21 overs in the straightforward victory over local rivals Leicestershire, he could take in the extra game without overburdening his body. While he is a bowler who benefits from match practice throughout the season, he has a history of injury problems and Andrew Strauss will have weighed his options carefully before making this decision.
Broad’s new ball partner for England, James Anderson, is going to be absent from Lancashire’s trip to the Oval on Friday, while Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are unavailable for Yorkshire’s encounter with Warwickshire at Headingley. Both Broad and Anderson are expected to play in some more Championship games, while Root and Bairstow are scheduled to play at the Ageas Bowl when Yorkshire look to avenge their shock defeat last week.
While Root’s schedule is understandably hectic as England captain, Bairstow was part of the IPL auction and would have presumably been allowed to participate fully if he had been taken up by a franchise. Besides, Bairstow is only an automatic pick in the longest format of the game, and may not be involved in the Champions Trophy. Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, both centrally-contracted players, are representing their teams without ECB interference in their timetable.
While Yorkshire fans in seasons past have consoled themselves with their team’s dominance on the field despite international call-ups, their side’s struggles in the early season have been made all the more frustrating by the double standards that have prevented their England stars from turning out to help. Joe Root was at Headingley on Sunday to watch his side’s defeat to Hampshire – might things have been different if he could have taken the field?
The ECB have a difficult job to balance their responsibility for the success of the England team, and their responsibility to ensure the County Championship produces attractive and competitive cricket that fans want to watch. The proof will come in attendances and interest in the county game – over a million people tuned in to hear BBC commentaries on the first round of the County Championship, and sales of NatWest T20 Blast tickets are promising – and in the England team’s performances this summer.
In the meantime, though, accusations of double standards from passionate fans will linger when their stars are stuck on the bench. In a way, that frustration too is a mark of how much county cricket still means to lovers of the game.