FORMER Essex and England star Nasser Hussain has criticised cricket’s 'joke' schedule after lamenting Ben Stokes’ shock retirement from one-day internationals.

Stokes, England’s Test captain, called time on the 50-over game at the age of 31 and just three years after playing a starring role in his country’s 2019 World Cup final success.

Since that historic moment, Stokes has played just nine more times in the 50-over format due to injuries, a mental health break and workload management – and his statement to retire from ODI cricket referenced an “unsustainable” schedule.

“The issue is not with the ECB, Rob Key or Ben Stokes,” former England captain Hussain told Sky Sports.

“The issue is with the schedule.

"If the ICC just keep putting on ICC events, and the individual boards just keep filling in the gaps with as much cricket as possible, then eventually these cricketers will say ‘I’m done’.

“Ben Stokes is done in one format aged 31, which can’t be right really. The schedule needs looking at, it’s a bit of a joke at the moment.”

Stokes will make a farewell appearance, his 105th cap, at his home ground of Chester-le-Street against South Africa on Tuesday.

He will then focus on his Test captaincy and Twenty20 career, but Hussain insists the all-rounder might have been better served missing some games and series rather than completely retiring from the 50-over format.

Hussain said: “You thought that he would be looked after as far as being rested from various white-ball tournaments and formats.

“To completely knock 50-over cricket on the head is a massive surprise.

"Maybe they could say ‘Look, just have the time off that you need. We understand your workload, but we’d still like to consider you for the main world events.’

“He’s so important as a player, but I guess Ben Stokes is not the sort to hold people back.

"He said as much in his statement and I don’t think he would like it if it was the other way round.

“He hasn’t bowled that many overs this summer and I think his body is failing him a little bit.

“Sometimes it just hits you that I can’t do this format anymore and the only thing you are in control of is your own retirement.

“It’s disappointing news to say the least. But if you’re a multi-format, multi-dimensional England Test match captain like Ben Stokes, who throws himself into his job 100 per cent on and off the field, eventually something is going to have to give.

“It’s a reflection of where the cricketing schedule is at the moment. It is madness for players.”

Stokes’ decision was described as “selfless” by Rob Key.

“Ben has had an incredible international career in ODI cricket, culminating in his match-winning performance at the 2019 ICC men’s World Cup final,” said Key, managing director of men’s cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“I know this must have been a tough decision, but I completely understand why he has reached this conclusion.

“I’m sure that when we look back on Ben’s career and see this as one of the reasons he will play 120-plus Tests and help England in T20 matches and World Cups for many years to come.

“It is a typically selfless decision that will benefit England long-term.”

Clare Connor, interim ECB CEO, said: “Ben is not only one of the world’s best players but an inspirational figure too so our ODI team will miss him.

“But having taken on the Test captaincy and with today’s busy calendar of cricket we completely understand and respect his decision.

“We look forward to watching him excite and enthral in an England shirt for many years to come.”