Brett Lee’s burnout tale is starting to wear thin

I noticed another story in the Australian media about how Australian cricketers are highlighting the danger of ‘burnout’, this time it is Brett Lee doing the talking. Interestingly, he is in India doing promotional work. He may be burnt out, but clearly not so much that international travel is beyond him.

Local authorities are nervous about Australia’s commitment to the Champions Trophy after suggestions from Adam Gilchrist that some Aussies may need to rest from the event which ends a week before the Ashes series begins.

England coach Duncan Fletcher has suggested that players such as Andrew Flintoff may also need to be given a break during the one-day series.

According to local reports Lee was less than convincing when asked if he would return for the tournament.

“I would love to play it because that’s the only trophy we haven’t won. But, then, I will play if I am fit enough to play at that time. Frankly, I love coming to the subcontinent,” Lee said.

“To us the Ashes is more important than anything else. We had the hold over it for 18 long years. We are very keen to win it back.”

To be fair to Brett, I’m sure that he IS very tired right now, and promoting watches is not the most difficult of tasks. However, the Champions Trophy is not now, it is in October. The Australian players will be coming into the tournament after a five month break.

I think there is a hidden agenda here. I think that the Australians are planning to tank the tournament so that they can come home and play a couple of domestic first class games to prepare for the Ashes.

That is a big claim to make, and one that Australian players will, I am sure, deny with shocked expressions if you were put it to them. However, given the demands of the fixtures list in the 2006/07 seasons, it is in fact the only sensible thing to do. The Australian team has four different contests on its plate next summer.

  • The Champions Trophy
  • The Ashes
  • The domestic ODI triangular
  • The World Cup

Now, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand which two of those four contests are going to be a high priority for the players. If the domestic ODI triangular was axed, the Ashes could be spread out into January, and the players from both England and Australia could have a decent preparation. But it isn’t so they won’t get that preparation, UNLESS they take a dive in the Champions Trophy.

Of course it is not acceptable to say that in public, so they are coming out with this nonsense about ‘burnout’.

That dillema is actually made explicit in this story about Glenn McGrath’s preparation for his comeback next season.

McGrath, 36, wants to begin his comeback in earnest in the Champions Trophy limited-overs tournament in India in October, then return home for a couple of Pura Cup matches for New South Wales.

But if Australia reaches at least the semi-final stage of the Champions Trophy – a tournament it has never won – he won’t feature in the Pura Cup.

The Blues have matches between October 27 and 30 at the Gabba and November 3 to 6 in Adelaide, with their next from November 24 to 27 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The first Ashes Test begins at the Gabba on November 23.

Selection chairman Andrew Hilditch said this week McGrath was “gearing himself up” to be ready for the tournament, but captain Ricky Ponting has advised him to bypass the Indian trip and prepare via a stint in English county cricket.This would enable him to deliver some long and repeated spells and regain match fitness. McGrath traditionally takes times to find his rhythm, and Australia cannot afford to ease him into the Ashes.

“Personally, I feel that it would be perfect for me to (play in the Champions Trophy) and have a couple of games in the Pura Cup,” McGrath said.

“That’s my plan. But if they would prefer me to look at county cricket, I would look at that.”

So you can see where the priority of the cricketers lies. And I do not blame them one bit. It is the administrators that force this on players with ridiculous ODI tournaments. The Champions Trophy has no credibility because it is forced into odd places in the international calendar by the likes of Australia’s triangulars, a tournament that lost its credibility a long time ago anyway.

And these considerations apply just as much to the English who by coming off a busy domestic season have a much more valid claim to cite burnout.

Asking the right questions is half the battle.

So The Guardian ask David Lloyd and Bob Willis if England take the limited-overs game seriously enough. Lloyd says yes, and Willis says no.

But the real question is, do the fans take the game seriously enough? And should we take it seriously at all, given the way that cricket administrators fiddle around with it.

Played properly, on a true surface that helps strokeplay but also has some life and bounce and a teensy bit of sideways movement for the bowlers, limited overs cricket can be as skillful and as demanding and entertaining as you could wish for. It is up to administrators and ground authorities to produce those conditions for the players. I think that world-wide, cricket fans have been let down by the people in charge of the game, and it is high time some serious questions were asked about the direction of the limited overs game.