‘We are not cars you can fill up’: Ben Stokes complains of burden on players

Ben Stokes signed off from one-day international cricket with defeat to South Africa and a warning to the sport’s administrators that players “are not cars that you can fill up with petrol and let us go”.

The hero of the 2019 World Cup victory won his 105th and final ODI cap at Chester-le-Street on Tuesday after deciding he can no longer commit to all three formats. He will now focus his energies on captaining England’s Test team, plus a Twenty20 career.

“I just feel like there is too much cricket rammed in for people to play all three formats now,” Stokes said, before falling for just five in a 62-run defeat to the Proteas.

“It is a lot harder than it used to be. The more cricket that is played the better for the sport, but you want a product that is of the highest quality.

“It isn’t just me or us. You see it all around the world now where teams are having to rest some players in a certain series so they feel like they are getting a break. We are not cars where you can fill us up with petrol and let us go. It has an effect on you, the playing, the travel, it does add up.”

Jos Buttler concurred with the departing all-rounder when speaking after what was his fifth loss in seven since taking over from Eoin Morgan as England’s white-ball captain.

Buttler said: “It should definitely be a bit of a wake-up call, absolutely. Especially the magnitude of the player – one of the most recognisable players in world cricket, someone everyone wants to see play in every format.

“Sure, there’s more to it than the schedules but in international cricket you always want your best players playing if possible. Our loss in ODI cricket is certainly going to be England’s gain in Test cricket. That’s his priority, especially now he’s captain. It’s bittersweet, as an England fan.”

In the space of a generation the amount of cricket played by international teams has massively increased: in 2021 England played 41 matches, comprising 15 Tests, nine ODIs and 17 T20s; 30 years earlier in 1991 they had played 17 games, with nine Tests, eight ODIs and no T20s. Another 30 years previously, in 1961, England played 10 games, all Tests.

Stokes, who is struggling to manage a knee injury that continues to affect his bowling, told BBC and Sky: “I always knew at some point I would have to choose one of the white-ball formats to continue with, I just didn’t know which one. After that game it hit me in the face. I look at the way Jimmy [Anderson] and [Stuart] Broady’s careers have gone when they stopped playing white-ball cricket.

“I asked Stuart if he felt that not playing white-ball cricket was a reason he is still playing now, 156 Tests. He said without a shadow of a doubt, yes. I want to play 140-150 Tests for England. It’s come a lot earlier than I would have liked at 31 years old. Hopefully when I’m 35, 36 still playing Test cricket I can look back on this decision and say I’m very happy with it.”

Meanwhile Mark Wood has revealed he will have fresh surgery on his elbow injury on Saturday in a last-ditch attempt to be ready for the T20 World Cup in October. The fast bowler has not played a top-level match since he pulled out of the Test tour of the West Indies in March, after which he had an operation to remove bone and scar tissue. A comeback for his home town club, Ashington, at the weekend confirmed further medical attention was required.

“I better get it sorted right now if I want to be fit for the T20 World Cup, which is the goal,” Wood said. “It’s just been so frustrating when I have done everything I could, listened to all the experts, done what they said, just not to be able to get over that final hump is so frustrating. I’m a bit sad and frustrated now, but what can I do? I’ve given it as good a shot as I could.”