After assuming the captaincy from Joe Root earlier this year, Ben Stokes has built a revolution in England’s approach to Test cricket.
Dominant, exciting and – above all – risk ridden wins against both New Zealand and India have ushered in a new era of play, with Stokes – as he ever is – at the very heart of it all.
But the One Day International team – that he has so often and so famously dragged to historic wins in the past – will now have to approach its own new era without him, after he stunned the cricketing world by announcing his retirement from the fifty over format.
An emotional farewell at Durham followed, but as Jos Buttler’s short form teams look to adjust, the international cricketing world is reflecting on the why, and what can be done to ensure early retirements are few and far between.
So, why is Ben Stokes retiring from ODI cricket?
While one could easily argue that Stokes – having achieved all he has done in his career – thoroughly deserves to take a break and put his feet up early, his statement may tell a different story.
Importantly, he makes clear that it’s not for the want of trying, but more for the demands placed upon him as a three-format player. Stokes’ career has been built upon grit, determination, and an unsatiable appetite for the game – for him to retire early suggest other forces at play.
Last year, Stokes took time away from cricket for mental health reasons and we at Miller have spoken at length about the challenges cricketers have faced when playing in bio-secure bubbles throughout 2020 and 2021, the toll of isolation, and the demands of the playing schedule.
So, is there too much cricket in the schedule?
This is far from a problem unique to England.
Cricket has long been caught up in an existential crisis, with the death of Test cricket forecast almost daily, and the emergence of disruptors every decade like clockwork, from World Series Cricket to The Hundred and beyond.
In reality though, short form cricket on the surface is in good health, with extra private investment and – on the face of it – more playing opportunities.
The Indian Premier League has signed new broadcast mega-deal on the back of an increase in the number of franchises from eight to ten and it’s entirely possible that future editions of the IPL will last three months.
In England, white-ball bilateral series against India and South Africa are taking place while the County Championship, 50-over Cup, T20 Blast all dominate screens, with August saved for The Hundred.
In Australia, the Big Bash League is introducing a new draft above the salary cap of each club – making more room for elite players and ticket sales.
In South Africa, a brand-new franchise T20 tournament is in the works, with blue chip sponsors on board already attracting the world’s best to a tournament that – as yet – has never held a single game. Importantly, though, is that the franchises themselves are being invested in to by IPL owners, showing a maturing T20 marketplace where calendars are aligning.
Throw into that the fact that there’s a men’s ICC tournament scheduled every year until at least 2030 (and nothing to suggest the number will decrease after that).
But with such opportunity comes demand, and the sport’s main stakeholders – the players – are often those left in the lurch.
But Stokes’ struggles with the above is no isolated incident.
Stokes’ ODI retirement now means that Jonny Bairstow is now the only England cricketer playing across all three international formats. Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Saqib Mahmood might also be doing so, but they are among a group of fast bowlers who have faced lengthy injury.
It’s easy to see how the players are starting to struggle, and there’s concern Stokes’ retirement could be the first of many.
So, where do we go from here?
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.
That said, players themselves aren’t so sure.
When asked last week, Indian ODI captain Rohit Sharma endorsed their survival, as did Aaron Finch and Jos Buttler – Australia and England captains, respectively.
They’re all in agreement that the schedule, or as Finch describes it as, the ‘marketplace’ needs a shake up, but all are reluctant to see the death of bilateral series.
T20s are unlikely to take a hit, given the financial opportunities they provide, while Tests remain sacrosanct for players and fans alike.
Something will have to give, and despite the players protestations, it’s likely One Day Internationals will be the victim, and public perception may well carry it there.
So, if logic follows, the death of the ODI may well be close, but how does the ICC truly manage such a demise? The future remains somewhat unclear.
For Stokes’ part, however, he will forever be etched into English cricket history as one of our greatest short form players ever. His Stokes’ 84 not out in the 2019 Cricket World Cup final hauled the hosts into the super-over, where he and Jos Buttler scrambled 15 runs to set up victory by the barest of margins.
His retirement was, of course, a personal decision, but its ramifications around the rest of the cricketing world will last a decade and longer.
There will be many players in Stokes’ position who don’t have the fame, or earning potential, that he can command and who may be struggling to play but eager or – need – to earn wherever possible.
There is some great work being done around the industry, including from FICA and the PCA (Professional Cricketers' Association) to guard against these, but together we now need to unite and support each other, collaborate and share to safeguard these players and ensure we can enjoy our sports stars for as long as possible.
Miller already works with a host of cricketers to support them with the financial risks of holding multiple playing and endorsement contracts, and we’ll continue to push tirelessly to support their endeavours, protect their earnings, and ensure they have the most successful career possible.