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Cricket in lockdown: The players’ view

over 4 years ago | Uncategorised

It was just a month ago that Middlesex were in Oman, in the midst of pre-season training and with an eye on the start of their Championship campaign: a home contest with Worcestershire, beginning on April 12. But anxieties were growing as news continued to filter in of the coronavirus outbreak back in England. We were having daily meetings to check in on what was going on at home,” says fast bowler Tom Helm. “You hear all these rumours and wonder what’s going on at home, this and that. They [Middlesex management] just wanted to make sure everyone’s all right, and they gave everyone the option to go home if anyone felt unhappy or uncomfortable and didn’t want to be out there.” The rapid escalation of proceedings forced an early return for everyone.

The squad arrived back in the UK on March 16, the same day the government announced its need for “everyone to stop non-essential contact with others”. A week later: lockdown.

So what are professional cricketers up to while holed up at home? While gym equipment and adapted fitness programmes have been provided to all, the brutal reality is that little can be done. “There’s not much to it,” admits Helm. “I’ll go on a long walk in the afternoon or a run in the morning, depending on which day I’ve got to run, and try and get as much done as I can in the flat.” And how about time with bat and ball? “There’s a lot of shadow batting, a few throwing drills against the wall with a foam ball. You can faff around with a ball in your hand but there’s not much more than that you can do.” These truly are bizarre times.

For now, the season remains suspended until May 28, but a return soon after appears unlikely, with the ECB assessing options to start the summer in June, July or August. “It’s hard to know,” says batsman Sam Robson. “As players, realistic or not, we’re trying to be optimistic. We all love playing the game. Sport’s not the most important thing at the moment. There are things above that but having said that we’re still preparing to play around then I suppose. There’s not much preparation we can do. We’ll just see how we go.”

For Helm, the first match of the season might have come too soon as he recovered from surgery on his shoulder over the winter. But in the grand scheme of things, it is little cause for joy. “That would be the only silver lining of this whole thing, but I still don’t see it that way.”

And should the season eventually begin, how will it feel for players who have spent weeks and potentially months holed up in hibernation? “Everyone will be thrown into the deep end and I don’t doubt that there’ll be injuries left, right and centre,” Helm says. “That’s gonna be part and parcel of it. I think this year’s going to be different to no other year like before.”

“When we start playing it’ll be coming off a pre-season that’s different to what we’ve had before,” Robson says. “But we’re all in the same boat. Every county and every cricketer across the country is in the same situation.

“One thing we’ll be drilling into boys when we do get up and running is, ‘Just because you haven’t picked up a bat or bowled a ball for however long doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten how to play’.

Keeping guys fit probably won’t be a problem. Provided people don’t sit on their couch, eat pizzas and burgers, and drink cans of beer, we should be OK.”

Even if fitness is maintained, what is certainly missing in the daily routine is the sanctuary of the dressing room. “The social interaction element is a big part for us,” says Helm. “We see the guys in our team everyday for most of the year and it’s bizarre not seeing each other.”

Conference calls have provided a little bit of help on that front but there’s no getting away from it: these are uncertain and worrying times. “It’s changing the whole dynamic of cricket and the whole dynamic of some people’s careers, if it goes on and on and on,” Robson says. “For some guys, if not much cricket is played, to come back next March or April of what may have been 18 months of not much cricket might be a tough ask, particularly for some of the older players in their mid-to-late thirties.”

There are obviously wider implications too. The ECB has announced a £61m emergency funding package as the game faces up to a huge financial fallout. Following these interviews with Robson and Helm, there came the announcement on April 8 that all county players have agreed to a support package involving wage cuts and an agreement to be furloughed by their counties should such a move be required over the next two months.

All that can be done for now is to remain at home. Time away from the game has allowed Robson and Helm to get on with their part-time business and sports management degrees at the University of Hertfordshire, while new pastimes are bound to emerge too.

I might be a guru of jigsaw puzzles in a few weeks,” Robson says. “I might have some hobbies in a month’s time that I didn’t know existed at the start of all this. It’s a strange time, that’s for sure. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it’s over soon.”

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