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Chris Woakes admits realities of post-Covid training ‘take up headspace’

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Chris Woakes believes that his first day back at training has given him an insight into how the rest of the England summer will pan out, after admitting that the strict social-distancing protocols at his home ground of Edgbaston would “take up some headspace”.

Woakes bowled five overs at about 50% intensity on Thursday, on his return to outside practice, using the box of six balls that each member of the England squad has been allocated since the ban on sporting activity was partially lifted by the UK government.

And while he said that his hour-long session was “literally about turning the arm over and getting things moving again”, the measures taken to protect the players from contracting Covid-19 were a central part of the experience, from taking his temperament and uploading it to an app before leaving his house, to following a prescribed route into Edgbaston, the venue that looks set to host Pakistan’s training camp ahead of their planned three-Test series in August.

ALSO READ: England training ‘safer than going to supermarket’ – Ashley Giles

“The venues and counties have tried to make this as safe as possible,” Woakes said. “In my eyes, they’ve done a really good job. I knew exactly how I was going to go into the ground. You have to drive your own car – at the minute there’s a lot of testing going on at Edgbaston, with the testing facility – [so I] parked in a safe area at the back, and walked onto the pitch through the Hollies Stand. This has all been planned in the last few weeks, so it’s as safe as possible, we don’t come into contact with anyone.

“I took everything I needed for training with me: bottles. towels, medicine balls, bands that I use for warming up. I was given a box of balls, ready there for me to use once I got into the ground. And then those balls are now mine. No one else will touch them – the whole thing of having one skin on each ball.

“It was all very strict. On arrival there’s a station where you can wash your hands and put anti-bac on before you start. There was a physio from Warwickshire there with me but, again, we don’t come into contact. We stayed more than two metres apart and I did my training. It took about an hour, and then I walked back through the Hollies to my car and left.”

The need to ensure no overlap with team-mates means that the players’ sessions are tightly scheduled at this stage of the process, before they progress to “contact clusters” in the coming weeks, ahead of the proposed start of the West Indies Test series in July. And though Woakes admitted he was glad to get back to work after an extraordinary period of downtime, he did acknowledge that the circumstances would take some getting used to.

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Stuart Broad shared the different steps he has needed to take to return to training on his Instagram

“I guess it’s a bit of a window [into the new reality],” he said. “Cricket is not generally a contact sport, so that helps, but we will get more of an inkling when we start practising more as a team, and have more people training at a venue. There are no changing rooms involved at the moment, match mode will look a lot different.

“Off the park, it will take up quite a bit of headspace. The world we are living does take up some headspace. But on the field you want 100% concentration, whether that is batting or bowling, and cricketers and sportsmen in general are quite good at focusing on the job in hand. But the ECB, the venues and counties are going above and beyond making it as safe as possible, so that will help us as players.”

Some habits will have to change on the field, however, in particular the ingrained bowler’s instinct to polish the ball with saliva, which has now been outlawed by the ICC.

“You’re going to have remind yourself that you can’t use those things to shine the ball,” said Woakes. “Don’t get me wrong, you can shine the ball without saliva and sweat, it probably just doesn’t have the same effect. You might have to work a little bit harder on the rubbing on the trousers, but luckily enough the ball moves around in England anyway.

“You don’t always have to work overly hard on the ball, so hopefully that’ll work in our favour a bit. Thankfully it’s a Dukes and not a Kooka this summer, because then we would be struggling.”

One trend that could catch on this summer is the use of bowler’s headbands, with both Woakes and Stuart Broad taking to wearing them in their practice sessions. However, while Broad said on Instagram that his had been a bid to prevent sweat running down his face, Woakes claimed that he was merely keeping his hair out of his eyes after several weeks without a trim.

“I haven’t had it cut in 12 weeks apart from the wife doing the sides,” he said. “The alice band will probably be a feature for a while until I can get it cut.”



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ECB welcomes green light for behind-closed-doors sport

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The ECB has welcomed the UK Government’s go-ahead for the return of professional sport behind closed doors as it presses ahead with plans to host international cricket this summer, and stage a domestic season.

In a further easing of lockdown restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden announced government health and safety guidance on Saturday for elite athletes and professional sportspeople to return to competition in the absence of spectators from June 1. He added that it was up to individual sports to confirm they could meet the safety protocols and therefore when to resume.

The ECB, who are hoping to host a condensed international schedule at so-called ‘bio-secure’ venues, starting with a three-Test series against West Indies in July, issued a statement on Sunday saying they were “heartened” by the news. The ECB will study the guidelines to determine how they will help the sport emerge from lockdown, but it clearly saw hope for the resumption of domestic and recreational cricket.

ALSO READ: ECB backs Covid-19 substitutes as plans for return ramp up

“We are extremely heartened by Saturday’s announcement from the Secretary of State, which will support the return of professional, domestic cricket behind closed doors, and provides a meaningful next step for recreational players to begin playing at their clubs again,” the ECB statement said.

“Over the coming week, we will seek to understand the specific guidance from Government’s medical teams so that we can provide support for cricket clubs who will be eager to see their communities safely playing in small groups. We extend our thanks to all those in Government who have worked hard to support the return of sport and we look forward to seeing players from across the game start returning to the field.”

The ECB has been working on plans to hold televised international matches at two grounds – understood to be Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl – with another base to allow a third team to train – likely to be Edgbaston. Each of the venues will be configured to encourage social distancing, along with the use of different zones to separate groups such as players and match officials from those not staying on site.

England last week named a 55-man training group to prepare for the series against West Indies as well as planned visits from Pakistan, Australia and Ireland.

Cricket West Indies has agreed to the scheduled tour of England in principle and is awaiting approvals from the various national governments in the Caribbean for player and staff movement on charterd planes. The Test series, part of the World Test Championship, was originally supposed to start on June 4 but was postponed when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The ECB last week announced that no professional domestic cricket would be played in England or Wales until at least August 1, while recreational cricket would remain suspended until further notice, with the exception of using outdoor cricket nets and pitches for exercise under the government’s social distancing guidelines. It is investigating options for playing a domestic season possibly starting in August, including a County Championship split into regions and a T20 Blast competition.



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Jasprit Bumrah wants an ‘alternative’ to saliva for shining the ball post-Covid

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Jasprit Bumrah believes some provision should be made for an “alternative” to saliva for bowlers as a means to shine the ball, once cricket resumes. The ICC had agreed with its cricket committee and said no saliva should be applied to the ball as part of the new safety protocols in a post Covid-19 world, but Bumrah has suggested that, with conditions already loaded in favour of batsmen in limited-overs cricket, a counter-balance was needed.

Bumrah was speaking to Ian Bishop and Shaun Pollock on the ICC’s video series Inside Out interviews, and elaborated on his unique action, why a short run-up works for him, his preference for the Duke ball, and life in lockdown.

On the prospect of no saliva, high-fives or hugging
I was not much of a hugger anyway! And not a high-five person as well, so that doesn’t trouble me a lot. The only thing that interests me is the saliva bit. I don’t know what guidelines we’ll have to follow when we come back, but I feel there should be an alternative. If the ball is not well maintained, it’s difficult for the bowlers. The grounds are getting shorter and shorter, the wickets are becoming flatter and flatter. So we need something, some alternative for the bowlers to maintain the ball so that it can do something – maybe reverse in the end or conventional swing.

[Bishop points out that conditions in Test cricket have been pace-friendly over the last couple of years]

In Test match cricket, yes. That is why it’s my favourite format, because we have something over there. But in one-day cricket and T20 cricket… one-day cricket there are two new balls, so it hardly reverses at the end. We played in New Zealand, the ground (boundary) was 50 metres. So even if you are not looking to hit a six, it will go for six. In Test matches I have no problem, I’m very happy with the way things are going.

Whenever you play, I’ve heard the batsmen – not in our team, everywhere – complaining the ball is swinging. But the ball is supposed to swing! The ball is supposed to do something! We are not here just to give throwdowns, isn’t it? (laughter) This is what I tell batsmen all the time. In one-day cricket, when did the ball reverse last, I don’t know. Nowadays the new ball doesn’t swing a lot as well. So whenever I see batsmen say the ball is swinging or seaming and that is why I got out – the ball is supposed to do that. Because it doesn’t happen so much in the other formats, it’s a new thing for the batsmen when the ball is swinging or seaming.

On how bowling can be affected during the lockdown
I really don’t know how your body reacts when you don’t bowl for two months, three months. I’m trying to keep up with training so that as soon as the grounds open up, the body is in decent shape. I’ve been training almost six days a week but I’ve not bowled for a long period of time so I don’t know how the body will react when I bowl the first ball.

I’m looking at it as a way to renew your own body. We’ll never get such a break again, so even if you have a small niggle here and there, you can be a refreshed person when you come back. You can prolong your career.

“I’ve heard the batsmen complaining the ball is swinging. But the ball is supposed to swing! The ball is supposed to do something! We are not here just to give throwdowns, isn’t it?”

JASPRIT BUMRAH

On the back injury that made him miss the 2019-20 home season
I don’t know what actually was happening because there was not a lot of pain. There was some difficulty, some stiffness here and there, so we took the conservative approach and just tried to make it stronger. Could have been back earlier, but yes – there was no pain, no difficulty as such. I was just focusing on the break that I’d gotten because of a small niggle. I focused on the whole body development at that time.

On the New Zealand tour post-injury
We earlier thought it was a stress fracture but I was lucky that it was not giving me any pain. If there is no physical pain there is no limitation. So you won’t hold yourself back. In that aspect I was a little lucky. Yes maybe one or two games you give yourself a little bit of time, but as soon as one or two games went by I wasn’t holding myself back.

On his unique action
I’ve never been to a professional coach as such (in his formative years). All my cricket is self-taught. Everything I learned was through television, watching videos… so I don’t know how this action developed. There were always some people doubting that should I change it or not, but I’ve never really listened to them a lot. I always had belief that it could work.

ALSO READ: The boy called Boom

I have changed certain things… When I started, in 2013, I used to jump out a lot. If something is giving you trouble you change it. If it’s not giving you any trouble, then I keep on doing it. I listen to a lot of advice, I’m very inquisitive. I ask a lot of questions to all the senior players and coaches. Getting general feedback, filtering the advice – if it works for me, then I try to do it. If it doesn’t, you have to let it go.

Growing up, wherever I went, the general feedback was that this guy won’t be a top-rated bowler, he won’t be able to play for a long period of time, he won’t be able to do well as a bowler (because of his action). But the only validation that is required is your own validation.

On having a short run-up
The run-up is because of playing in the backyard. We didn’t have a lot of space when I used to play as a child. This was the longest run-up you could have, so maybe that could be a reason. I’ve tried a longer run-up and nothing changes – the speed is still the same. So why run so much?

This helps me when I play Test matches because when I’m bowling my fourth spell, fifth spell, I’m relatively more fresh than the bowlers who play with me and have a longer run-up. This was my theory. This is not the best thing I should say but I am bowling quicker than them in my fourth spell as well! So I think I should stick to it. If I have some physical difficulty and if it’s giving me some trouble, then I’ll find solutions. But if it’s not broken, why fix it?

On developing the outswinger (inswinger to left-handers)
I always had the outswinger, but when I came into the international set up I was not very confident of it because maybe it was not going out really well. The pace should be good, you should have the feel of it. I was trying to work on it, and in the West Indies, conditions were helpful, the ball was helpful so I was able to swing it.

It was there even in the 2016 T20 World Cup. I bowled an inswinger to Chris Gayle. That was the first time I tried bowling an inswinger to the left-hander. But I was not so confident of it because you don’t know if you’ll have the zip, if it will swing as much. In England (2018) I didn’t play the first two Tests because I had a thumb injury so I bowled in the nets. That was my first experience with the Duke ball and it was swinging in the nets. So I became more confident and bowled the outswinger in the nets. Hearing the commentary as well (on air, there was talk of the left-handers being able to leave Bumrah outside off because it wouldn’t swing back in), I thought maybe if they are listening, and they don’t know I have the outswinger, then it could probably go to my advantage.

On the Duke ball
I love bowling with the Duke ball. It does a lot, it seams, it swings… when you have a little bit of help, that does make a difference. Nowadays it’s difficult to be a fast bowler because the boundaries are getting shorter, the wickets are getting flatter. So if the ball does something, it makes an even competition. If there is no help you have very few things to play with so it becomes a lot more difficult for a bowler. I enjoy bowling with the Duke ball more than any other ball.

On his Test career so far
When I played my first Test match in South Africa, I was not used to bowling on such different kinds of wickets, because that was my first time in South Africa. There was a lot more bounce, lot more seam. In India, we tend to bowl a lot fuller because we have to use reverse swing in first-class cricket to get wickets, or maybe try to swing the ball early up. But in that Test series, in the first innings, I tried bowling Indian lengths, tried to bowl a little too full. So the South African batsmen played me a lot better. They drive the ball on the rise over there, so that was something new. Quickly in the second innings we had to adjust. We could afford to bowl a little shorter there and try to seam the ball because there was a lot more bounce. After that went to England, the ball swings, so again you have to go fuller. Then Australia was different again.

On the T20 World Cup
We were really preparing well for it. We had a lot of T20 games before the World Cup as per the old schedule. If everything had been on plan, we would have had the IPL as well so we would have had a fair number of T20 games. We would always want to believe that we can win the tournament. That is how we felt in the 2019 World Cup, but you know how the game was. In half an hour, 40 minutes it can change.



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Sri Lanka’s 13-man squad to begin training on Monday

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Sri Lanka Cricket will go ahead with plans for a 13-man squad of players to begin training on Monday, despite a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 infections in the country over the past few weeks.

The players will essentially put themselves and four support staff in a bubble, over the course of the 12-day “residential training camp” at the Colombo Cricket Club. The squad, which largely comprises of bowlers, will stay at a nearby hotel, and “will not be allowed to leave the hotel premises or the practice venue to attend personal matters” according to an SLC release.

Although 531 new Covid-19 patients had been identified in Sri Lanka since May 24, those new cases are believed to be almost entirely from quarantine centres from around the country, with recent returnees from the Middle East comprising the majority of patients. In general, the Sri Lanka government has indicated that the spread of the virus is under control, and has so far avoided reimposing the strict, extended curfews seen through April and the early part of May.

The government is also understood to be supporting this resumption of training.

“Health officials already visited the hotel and the practice venue, and provided health guidelines to the staff members of the respective venues,” the board release said.

Among those who will start training are quicks Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara. Spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya and batsmen Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka have also been included in this squad. Head coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower – both of whom have been in Sri Lanka through the duration of the viral outbreak – are among the support staff.

SLC had hoped international cricket could begin on the island in late June or early July, but India – the team that is due to visit next – have not confirmed the tour.



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