Sometimes, it is possible to think that England’s cricket power brokers are having a laugh at Durham. They give with one hand and take away with the other.
A financial bailout, with the county in economic meltdown last year, was accompanied by the penalty of swingeing points reductions across all tournaments for the 2017 season. International matches continue to be allocated to the Emirates Riverside ground but frequently at a time of year in the north-east when polar expedition gear is needed to watch them.
The latest perceived slight for the one-off evening Twenty20 match to be played against West Indies on Saturday night – temperatures are expected to peak at 13C at around 6.30pm and decline steadily from there – is the omission of the local hero, Ben Stokes. It has been deemed by the selectors that their most precious asset urgently needed a rest and could not be risked in 40 overs of cricket five miles up the road from his home.
England would seem to want it both ways. The one-day international between England and Australia at the Riverside next June is already being promoted. Posters dotted around the venue are emblazoned with the image of only one cricketer: Stokes.
For that alone, it would be a brave selector who dared rest him then, but since he has yet to appear in any international match at the ground the prospect should not be ruled out. The selectors may also point to the fact that all 13,000 tickets have already been sold for this T20 match, Stokes or no Stokes.
“I see both sides,” said England’s limited overs captain, Eoin Morgan. “Ben, like Moeen [Ali], has a very long year ahead and has already had a very long summer. Of course, guys want to see him play. If there wasn’t an injury risk down the line or a huge Ashes tour coming up potentially he might be able to play. It’s unfortunate it has to be a game at his home ground but we have to stay strong with the decisions and the plans we have, so down the line we don’t regret playing him in a one-off game.”
Had Stokes been included for this solitary T20 match – one-offs always lack context in cricket – it could more persuasively have been marketed as England v Windies: The Rematch. It is almost 18 months since the sides last met in a T20 international, the final of the World Twenty20 in Eden Gardens, Kolkata. West Indies, having been expertly contained, needed 19 to win from the final over, bowled by Stokes.
In an extraordinary climax they acquired them from four balls. Carlos Brathwaite struck four consecutive sixes as Stokes, his agony multiplying by the ball, tried and repeatedly failed to produce an on-the-button yorker – the right area as they have it in the trade.
“Obviously it’s something I can’t get away from and they even have us playing at his home ground,” said Brathwaite, perhaps pointedly. His reward was to be immediately elevated to West Indies’ T20 captaincy. “It’s something I’ll always be reminded about but it’s something I try to put to bed and move forward with my career.”
Morgan declined to name the side that will play from the squad of 14, though he hinted in the broadest terms that there will be a place for Jason Roy, who was dropped from the 50-over side this summer in the final stages of the Champions Trophy. Joe Root, who was rested for the T20 series of three matches against South Africa in June, is on parade.
Apparently he is not in need of a rest despite leading England in seven Test matches in his first summer as captain. That might mean Jonny Bairstow, who rarely seems to do much wrong, is overlooked once more in the white-ball game.
After a poor start to Brathwaite’s tenure in which they lost six in nine matches, West Indies have won their past four. To demonstrate the fact they take Twenty20 with deadly seriousness and that it is probably the most important form of the game for them now, Brathwaite, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard have all been summoned to Durham. England look at things differently.