The COVID-19 lockdown could provide a new generation of cricketers the time and space required to hone the mental side of their game, according to John Gloster, the Rajasthan Royals’ physiotherapist. He believes that some lasting benefits could yet arise from cricket’s globally enforced break, in spite of the cramped conditions that some players will currently be experiencing as they attempt to train at home.
Gloster, who worked as India’s physiotherapist from 2005 to 2008 and has been based in Mumbai ever since, is currently waiting – along with everyone else involved with this season’s IPL – for the final decision on a tournament that is currently postponed until April 15, but is likely to be pushed back further still, with India currently implementing strict measures to combat the virus.
And until that moment comes, Gloster and his fellow back-room staffers are in the complicated situation of remotely monitoring their players’ physical, mental and nutritional levels, while helping them to channel their pent-up energies in productive ways.
“For any athlete, the thing they hate most is the fear of the unknown,” Gloster told ESPNcricinfo. “When a cricketer is injured, and is unsure about time-frames, it’s easy for them to become frustrated. And that’s when we need to start working on the mental and psychological side of the game. It’s a similar situation here, because we don’t yet know when they will be playing again, so there’s no definitive starting point to work back from.
“The physical side of their games is probably the easiest bit to manage, to be perfectly honest,” he added. “Because we know about that aspect, we know what constraints each player has in their home environments. But the mental side of this situation is taking us into some pretty uncharted waters.”
Speaking about the situation last week, Royals’ England star Ben Stokes admitted that he was obliged to carry on training as if the tournament will get underway next month, and both he and his team-mate Jos Buttler have been posting regular videos of their training on Instagram.
But Gloster admitted that his focus was more on the young Indian players in the Royals set-up, many of whom are in their first professional contracts and so are not yet tied into the sort of Athlete Management System (AMS) that co-ordinates the training programmes of the game’s elite players.
“The physical constraints that the Indian players are now having seems to be a lot greater than that of the guys in say, South Africa, Australia or the UK,” he said, “because space is an incredible constraint here. I’ve seen some fantastic footage coming out of the players in the UK where they’re in their own gyms and they’ve got lots of space, and I think the Indian boys are going to be perhaps at a physical disadvantage there.
“But one of the things that we’ve worked on very hard with our IPL players is knowing them 365 days of the year, and at an intimate level too – where they’re from, what their background is, what they eat, how big their house is, what village they’re from. All this stuff matters even more in an environment like this, because now we know what’s realistic or unrealistic when we ask them to do things.
“I’m the only physio who’s based here all year round so I’ve had the opportunity to build these relationships with the players. I’ve just had Varun Aaron sending me photos of him grilling fish at home on his barbecue, and then downstairs in his gym training. Sanju Samson sends me photos asking, ‘can I eat this? Can I eat that?’, and Shreyas Gopal asked me for cooking tips the other day. They are comfortable about asking questions which are now suddenly very, very relevant to them.”
Nevertheless, Gloster admitted that the unique circumstances of the lockdown would create some fascinating scenarios when play does finally resume, given that no amount of training can fully replicate a live match experience.
“Every single cricketer, probably for the first time since the second world war, will be starting from exactly the same place in terms of match fitness,” he said. “This is really interesting, because normally when we enter an environment like the IPL, we have to manage guys who are overloaded, and factor that into their training, as well as guys who are under-loaded and need to match the necessary levels.
“Whereas on this occasion, everyone will be entering the tournament without any match fitness, which will bring with it a large injury risk because the expectation for all professional sportsmen is that you’ve always got to go at 100 percent.”
Therefore the best preparation that all players can make in the downtime, in Gloster’s opinion, is to hone their mental games, and take the opportunity to broaden the horizons that sometimes get restricted by the non-stop nature of modern professional sport.
“I think we’re going to find just how mentally resilient all these players are,” he said. “Actually, I think it’ll be a really good test for these guys because they’re going to be tested by this environment more than they’ve ever been tested by any stressful situation on the cricket field.
“There are going to be some great learnings for these guys about themselves, about how you switch off and get away from cricket, and what strategies can you use now that will make you better when we go back to the game. Because the best players in the world are the ones that can actually switch off from cricket and mentally relax when they need to.
“The Rahul Dravids of the world were great readers. Shane Warne did whatever Shane Warne did outside of his game time. I don’t think modern cricketers are very good at that, it’s just cricket or nothing else. So this could be a great opportunity to find hobbies other relaxation techniques, and drill a little deeper into their own psyches.
“For some that might be simple things like reading and board games, but I also like to see the guys with families spending time with their kids. As we know, modern cricketers don’t spend much time with their families so this chance just to reconnect can be a really good thing as well.
“I think this is all part of a process that will be maturing our cricketers a lot more than they think. And ultimately that’s going to benefit them when they get back to playing.”
Queensland opposed to Cricket Australia cuts despite job losses
Queensland’s chairman Chris Simpson has confirmed the state association remains allied with New South Wales and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) in questioning Cricket Australia’s chosen remedy for the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as all three organisations continue to push the governing body for more information.
While Queensland Cricket announced on Monday that it would be cutting 32 staff from its books in anticipation of a 25% funding cut from CA, Simpson said this move was necessary largely because his state was in a far weaker position than NSW, the other dissenter. Queensland’s most recent annual report listed reserves of A$7.6 million among total assets worth A$18.3 million, far less than NSW or Victoria, to name two states, can call upon.
At the same time, Simpson outlined that, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, Queensland’s board was trying to ensure that its agreement would see any reduction in distribution for 2020-21 revised back upwards if the summer produced a more favourable financial result than CA is currently forecasting.
“We have not signed the agreement,” Simpson told News Corp. “We are trying to learn how long their proposed cuts run for. It is a bit ambiguous how they have presented it. We want clarity on the term and we also want to make sure 25% is the ceiling.
“We also want to make sure that should things be better than what they are modelling – and every day we are getting more positive about the prospect of serious cricket content this season – we don’t want to lock into something that is to the detriment of the states.”
Simpson’s words are similar to those conveyed by the NSW chairman John Knox and his chief executive Lee Germon to staff and stakeholders earlier this month. “As a result of the Cricket Australia proposal, some states have already reduced their commitment to community cricket, potentially impacting the long-term future of the game,” they said in an email. “We believe that any decision to reduce the agreed state distributions should be delayed until there is a better understanding of whether international cricket will be played next season.”
The ACA has contacted states and indicated a willingness to preserve community staffing and programs via financial assistance from the “grassroots fund” carved out of MoU cash and overseen by both the ACA and CA. The fund has dished out almost A$4.5 million in funding for equipment and facilities since 2017, and is expected to have about A$3 million available this year. CA is due to give its latest indicative forecast of Australian Cricket Revenue – from which the players’ fixed percentage of revenue is derived – by Friday.
Queensland’s cuts have included a major downsizing of the Brisbane Heat’s operation and the exit of the long-serving selector, coach and manager Justin Sternes. They have also seen community cricket programs significantly affected, but Simpson said the state had been left with little option.
“We have been told for a long time how big a deal the Indian tour is, so to hear that optimism brings the depth of the cuts into focus,” Simpson said. “Eighty percent of our funding comes from one source [CA] and they have said they potentially have solvency issues, so it is our duty to act on that information. We disagree with a lot of the information provided but we still had to act. NSW have a very big book and they can ride it out. We can’t.”
The Australia and NSW fast bowler Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has given his strong support to the state’s own decision to push back against CA. “In terms of NSW they’ve been pretty strong in holding their position and I think from the little updates I’ve read from NSW, it’s a big part of their plan – to be part of growing the game in the state,” he said
“That’s obviously where we have all come from, as international and elite cricketers, we’ve come from the junior clubs to grade clubs all the way to international cricket. Full credit to the NSW board in trying to, at this stage, hang onto all of their staff and their grass roots at the moment.
“Cricket hasn’t lost any games yet in this country, obviously the Bangladesh [tour] has been postponed but there hasn’t been any cricket lost yet. So it’s going to be an interesting few weeks with state contracting then us all returning to training – I guess we’re going to see what staff we’ve got.”
Rahul Dravid says bio-secure bubbles not a foolproof route to resuming cricket
Rahul Dravid believes sport across the globe will need a controlled lifting of restrictions if it is to thrive again, and playing in a bio-secure bubble will not always be a viable solution even as governing bodies grapple with the prospect of resuming behind closed doors in the Covid-19 era.
“A lot of these things are going to be dictated by the situation and how it evolves,” Dravid said on a webinar organised by YUVA, a non-profit organisation for underprivileged sportspersons in India. “In case of the bio-bubble, you do all the testing and quarantine and then on day two of the Test match, what if one player, for example, tests positive? What happens then?
“The rules, as they stand now, will see the Public Health Department coming in and putting everyone in quarantine, that ends the Test, that series, even though they may have incurred a lot of expense to create that [secure] environment.
“So we have to work with the health authorities and governments to work out ways in which, if someone tests positive, you don’t cancel the full tournament. If we are talking of the environment of sport, given the rules that exist now, it will be difficult for sport to resume.”
Dravid also felt quarantining players for a set period before and after the event in a crowded cricket calendar may not be entirely practical. He was responding to a question on the possibility of West Indies playing in England in a “bio-secure” environment, with lengthy preparation times.
As things stand, West Indies are prepared to travel to England a month in advance to acclimatise and complete their quarantine before playing a three-Test series. England players, as per reports, may need to be away from their families for up to nine weeks, until the end of the three-Test series against Pakistan in August.
“With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that.”
Rahul Dravid on long quarantine periods
“A lot of these rules will have to keep changing. It is a bit unrealistic to have things at the level the ECB is talking about for every series [14-day quarantine period before and after every series],” Dravid said. “Obviously, the ECB is very keen to conduct these couple of series because they have had no other cricket and it is right in the middle of the season, and they’re keen to do this so they are potentially creating the bubble and managing it that way.
“It’s going to be unrealistic for everyone to be able to do that all the time. With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that. We’re hoping things will evolve and we will find a better way.”
Football leagues in Germany and Korea have resumed behind closed doors. There have been talks within the BCCI of the IPL adopting a similar route, too. Dravid felt such a possibility could only benefit richer boards or leagues.
“The Bundesliga, Korean League or specific leagues where players live and train in one city, that can be managed at an elite level where there is money and infrastructure isn’t a problem,” Dravid explained. “As you go down where sports don’t have the kind of money some of these football leagues or other leagues have, it’s going to be difficult to do that. You have to find a balance to this situation. If we want to stick by the rules we’re talking about now, it’s unrealistic to start sport. There has to be easing of certain restrictions, even when people test positive, for sport to fully resume.
Dravid also underlined how crowds were integral to the sporting experience and equated elite sportspeople to “performers” who thrived on the big stage. While he didn’t think player performance would be directly affected by playing behind closed doors, he said athletes wouldn’t have the “stage to perform”.
“Elite sportspeople will adjust at a professional level,” he said. “They will find a way to not let it affect performances to a large extent. They all take pride in their performances, so they will find a way to deal with it. I don’t think there will be a dip in performance because of this but, as a whole, the experience won’t be the same.
“Players are like performers, they like to play in front of big crowds. They’re used to engaging with the fans. That adds an incredible complexity to the game. The interactions between fans and players will be missed, like the experience of playing in front of a packed house in Kolkata or anywhere in the world. As players, you want to perform. There’s a sense of wanting to perform as an artiste or actor or performer, and the players would miss that.”
Mitchell Starc: Saliva ban risks ‘boring’ cricket without balance
Cricket runs the risk producing “boring” contests, losing followers of the game and reducing the number of young aspirants to bowl fast if a better balance isn’t struck between bat and ball. These are Mitchell Starc‘s views in reaction to the interim ruling offered by the ICC to ban saliva from shining the ball in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
Having bent his back on a succession of unhelpful pitches in home Test matches over the past few summers, Starc argued similarly to his colleagues Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. He thinks the ICC’s prohibition of saliva, but not sweat, from being used to shine the ball out of health concerns needed to be counterbalanced by another measure.
While the ICC’s cricket committee has suggested more sporting pitches could be a solution currently, Starc was understandably wary about the prospect of administrators and ground staff acquiescing to this instruction, and instead pushed for a temporary allowance for an artificial substance with which to polish the ball. This concept, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, was discussed by the ICC committee before being ruled out on the basis that it took the game too far from its existing laws.
“I understand that completely and hear what they’re saying in terms of a foreign substance, but whether that can be controlled by the umpires in terms of they have a portion of the wax and you can only use a small amount, I don’t know, but there needs to be a maintaining of the even contest,” Starc said. “I understand what they’re saying with foreign substances and that it’s black and white in terms of that, but it’s an unusual time for the world and if they’re going to remove saliva shining for a portion of time they need to think of something else for that portion of time as well.
“Whether it be the wickets being not as flat or at least considering this shining wax to a degree, there needs to be some thought on that I think. I guess you use both those things [saliva and sweat] to shine the ball. I’ve probably been a bit more on the sweat side, just trying to not get my hands in my mouth too much, but yeah, I agree completely with what Pat commented on last week – that contest with bat and ball, we don’t want to lose that or get further away from that even contest, so there needs to be something in place to either keep that ball swinging.
“They’ve mentioned that it’s only going to be there for a period of time and then once the world gets back to a relatively normal situation then saliva can come back into shining the ball. But if it’s going to be a window of time there, maybe then instruct people to leave more grass on the wickets to have that contest or if they’re going to take away a portion of maintaining the ball, there needs to be that even contest between bat and ball, otherwise people are going to stop watching, and kids aren’t going to want to be bowlers.”
Administrators have long supported the concept of more lively pitches for bowlers, but far too often the practical outcome has been the preparation of surfaces devised to see a Test last for five days, typically producing a very attritional brand of cricket. Starc was clearly casting his mind back to India’s previous tour of Australia in 2018-19, where after two evenly-fought matches on fair pitches in Adelaide and Perth, Virat Kohli’s team ground the Australians into the beige turf of the MCG and SCG to close out the series.
“I think as we saw in Australia the last couple of years, there’s some pretty flat wickets, and if that ball’s going straight, it’s a pretty boring contest,” Starc said. “I think Kookaburra have been developing a shining wax or something of the sort, so whether there’s consideration of that, there needs to be some [thought to] maintaining that even contest. Generally the spinners reckon that the wickets that seam a bit also spin, so maybe if you bring the bowlers back into the game, you’ll tick all the boxes.”
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