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Bubbles, Toil and Troubles

England’s World T20 campaign kicks off on Saturday against the West Indies. It’s the appetiser for busy winter ahead.

However, for many of England’s players it’s already the second course. They went straight from the English summer to the IPL and now on to Dubai. No wonder Moeen Ali decided to chuck in Test cricket. The likes of Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, and Mark Wood will leave the World T20 and then head to Australia for three or four months. The schedule is unrelenting.

I have to admit that I feel some sympathy for the players. Yes, I know they get well paid and it’s an honour to play for one’s country etc, but anyone who’s read Graham Thorpe or Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography will know tough it is spend so long away from home in the public eye. Throw in Covid, and the bio-secure bubbles, and the situation is made infinitely worse.

People who enjoyed touring like Mike Atherton used to spend days off exploring the local culture. England tour some marvellous countries, so there’s usually plenty of eye-opening opportunities to both learn and relax. However, life in the bubble has completely taken this away.

During the last 18 months, touring (particularly the quarantine bits) essentially consists of staring at the same four walls and spending time with the same small group of people. There’s no respite; there’s no opportunity to escape an immerse yourself in something different.

I wouldn’t fancy this one little bit. I can totally understand why England’s players had reservations about the original schedule proposed for The Ashes.

I’m sure that many accounts of life in the bubble will emerge over the next few years when the pandemic is behind us. However, this one by our friend Adam Drury on the Betway Insider Blog caught my eye. It’s not about the England lads, it focuses on the South Africans, but it’s still a good insight into the tedium of bubble life:

“What are we watching?” Rassie Van Der Dussen asks his wife, Lara. “Not too much at the moment,” is the verdict. “We’re in between series so you’ve caught me at a difficult time. That is quite the predicament, considering that the pair have very little else to fill their downtime inside South Africa’s T20 bubble. “I’m sure in the next few days I’ll put some time into thinking about it,” says van Der Dussen. Staying sane in the hours in between their practise and preparation is key to their performance.

This passage really conveys the utter boredom endured by the players. If you’ve had first hand experience of mental health issues, you’ll realise that boredom makes life so much worse. You need to keep your mind active rather than watching the walls slowly close in around you.

Another squad member, spinner Keshav Maharaj, describes the makeshift setup as ‘not ideal’, but is also working to make the best of this unusual preparation. “It is what it is,” he says. “There are a lot of differences so I work hard to make myself feel as at home as possible. I am a very clean and tidy person. I like neatness. There’s nothing worse than an untidy room and scruffy sheets. It really drives me mad. With no cleaners coming into the rooms I spend time making myself more comfortable by keeping my room in check.” But an entirely isolated existence is not healthy, either.

The extract above reminds us that different personalities deal with situations differently, too. It’s the little things about bubble life that must get you. I’d never considered how an absence of cleaners in hotels might affect someone who gets uptight about dirt and mess. The situation is a challenge for everyone.

I suppose it will be a relief when the real action starts. At least the players will be more familiar with a match day environment.

Talking of which, I wonder how England will do in this tournament without Ben Stokes or Sam Curran to balance the side? I’m not too fussed about the latter if I’m being honest, but having Stokes around as a destructive hitter and fifth / sixth bowler would definitely help the XI.

On paper I think England’s batting looks strong. There’s plenty of firepower and knowhow available. I can see Dawid Malan becoming a bit of dilemma though. He’s a fine T20 player but not the best player of slow bowling.

Eoin Morgan, who’s form is a worry, has said that he’d happily drop himself rather than one of the other batsmen but personally I just can’t see it. He’s not as whacky as a Dermot Reeve who used to leave himself out of Warwickshire sides for fun.

England’s bowling worries me a lot more. We’ve got some solid cricketers but there’s a distinct lack of stardust without Jofra Archer. Woakes, Willey and Jordan can all go the distance (i.e. over the ropes) if the batsmen get their eye in. A lot will depend on Adil Rashid and whether Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone can cobble together enough overs as the fifth bowler.

What are your predictions for the tournament ahead? I’m not an avid T20 watcher so I’m not prepared to put my neck on the line for this one.

To be honest, the tournament has come round really quickly and I’ve enjoyed having a few weeks off from cricket watching; therefore I decided not to tune in for the warm up games.

Cricket’s schedule is simply unrelenting these days. And if supporters can get a tad burned out then heaven knows what it’s like for players confined to the bubble. I don’t envy them.

James Morgan

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Bubbles, Toil and Troubles


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