Topping the international cricketing feast of 2019 was always going to be difficult. After a World Cup and Ashes back-to-back, 2020 was bound to live in the shadow of its predecessor.
But running the rule over Australia’s upcoming calendar next year reveals much more than just an inferior schedule. Specifically, the number of condensed three-game series is far bigger than its ever been. The shift to shortened series, already well underway in recent years, is seemingly complete.
In short, nine of the eleven series involving the Australian mens side will be three-game white ball series. It’s a staggering amount, and reflective of what cricket fixturing has become.
Three, it would seem, is the magic number. Or rather, the number cricket bosses are loathe to count beyond.
Let’s run through it: After the New Year’s Test against New Zealand, Australia travels to India (thanks to a loss at the negotiating table) for a three-game ODI series.
Next, they go to South Africa in February for three T20s and three further ODIs. They then return home to face New Zealand in mid-March for another crack at the three-game ODI jamboree, before heading across the ditch for – you guessed it – another three-game T20 series.
In June, finally, they pull on the whites for a two-Test series in Bangladesh. But soon after it’s back to the three-fixture familiarity, with three T20s and three ODIs booked against England in July.
This one, of all the short-term series littered throughout the year, is the most eyebrow-raising. For over 20 years, bilateral ODI series against England have always consisted of at least four games. The unwillingness to schedule beyond three for the game’s oldest rivals says much about the truncated series preferences of cricket execs.
After the winter trip to the UK, the Aussies return home for three game T20 series against both the West Indies and India before the T20 World Cup kicks off in late October. After the World Cup, Justin Langer’s side finally pull on the whites again, for the Test series against India.
Eleven series: nine of them three-game ODIs or T20Is.
It’s a fixture emblematic of the shortest format itself; short and sharp, no time to waste. Three-game series rarely offer a chance for rivalries to play out, and narratives to develop.
Take Australia’s historic series win over India earlier this year. It was a win credited with reinvigorating an Australian one-day side which, until that point, was bereft of confidence. Had that series been condensed to three games, India would have won 2-1. As it was, Australia won 3-2 in a brilliant fightback away from home. It underlined the value of allowing a series time to breathe.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2020 schedule is that Test cricket will be pushed aside for most of the year. This is despite the fact Australia has just concluded the most memorable series in 14 years in the very same format.
Australia will play two tests abroad next year (against Bangladesh), the fewest since 2007. The Test side will play just seven times, also the fewest since 2007.
In recent years, overseas tours have produced some of the most memorable moments that stick long in the minds of Australian fans.
This year, it was an enthralling Ashes series. In 2018, it was the South Africa tour which, if not for the scandal that brought down Australian cricket, would have been remembered for the sheer brilliance of AB de Villiers, Aiden Markram and the Proteas seamers.
In 2017, it was Australia’s backs-to-the-wall tour of India showcasing the best of Steve Smith and India’s spinners.
I can go on. In 2016, Rangana Herath dismantled Australia in a way few bowlers have. 2015 saw another gripping Ashes series. But in 2020, it will be a mere two-Test series against Bangladesh. By no means is this to discredit the hosts who, like in 2017 (which finished 1-1), will provide a stern test for the Australians.
It goes without saying that Bangladesh are now a Test nation – and a nation who have beaten Australia, England and Sri Lanka in recent times. But the two-Test format does little to foster the drama and intrigue of the aforementioned contests.
That’s not to say a two-Test series cannot do so. Australia’s tour of the UAE against Pakistan last year, specifically the fighting first Test, had strong investment on these shores. But by design, the side who wins the first Test has only a draw to play for. Almost for this reason alone, it is flawed.
Truncated cricket series was perhaps inevitable in the drive for more countries to play each other more often. But it leaves us with quick, snackable series that may well be forgotten mere months down the line.