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.”
Anju Jain, Devika Palshikar to take charge of Baroda women
Former India captain Anju Jain and allrounder Devika Palshikar have been appointed on the Baroda women’s coaching staff after their contracts as the head coach and the assistant coach of the Bangladesh women’s team expired in early March following the Women’s T20 World Cup. While Jain will be in charge of batting and wicketkeeping at Baroda, Palshikar will be looking after the bowling and fielding departments.
ESPNcricinfo understands the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) had formally approached Jain and Palshikar last month after non-communication on the part of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) left the Indian pair without any clarity on their future with Bangladesh. The BCA finalised both appointments at its apex council meeting on Tuesday, where the decision to remove Atul Bedade as the head coach was also taken, “considering the sensitivity” of the sexual-harassment allegations levelled at him by the players which had led to his suspension in March.
“It was a [conscious] decision by the Association and the management to bring in female coaches in Anju Jain and Devika Palshikar for the women’s team of Baroda,” Rajkuvardevi Gaekwad, the Baroda women’s selection committee chief, told ESPNcricinfo. “Besides, we had been trying to rope in Anju for the past three years and were on the verge of finalising our talks with Devika in 2018, when the evening before she was due to hear from us, the BCB confirmed her appointment, so our plans never worked out. This time they did, and we are happy that we could get such vastly experienced coaches as Anju and Devika on board for specific disciplines.”
Under Jain and Palshikar, Bangladesh lifted their maiden multi-team title, in June 2018, by defeating heavyweights India at the Women’s Asia Cup final in Kuala Lumpur. However, they failed to win any matches in the T20 World Cups in 2018 and 2020. The coaching staff were due to be part of a review meeting with the BCB officials after the last edition in Australia but, according to Jain, they have not yet heard from the board.
“Before we – Devika, Kavita Pandya [the trainer], and I – returned to India, we spoke to the BCB CEO [Nizamuddin Chowdhury], who had kindly agreed to hold a meeting with us and other board officials about our performance at the World Cup because we, as the coaching and support staff, needed to address to a few concerns from our side and they, too, needed to have their internal meeting, which sounded fair enough,” Jain said. “But, unfortunately, we never had that meeting nor did we get any clarity from the board [about our future with the Bangladesh team].
“It has, however, been a positive and learning experience working with the players because they have been pretty open to the changes we tried to bring about in training and practice; they have given their best.”
The BCB, meanwhile, is understood to not have been keen on renewing Jain and Pashikar’s contracts although there has been no official announcement from the board yet. The fate of Pandya, too, remains unclear.
“Their contract with the BCB ended in March and had no obligation or commitment with us,” Touhid Mahmood, the women’s wing manager of the board, said. “They didn’t contact us, and we learnt about it (their new job) through the media. Our process of looking for a new coach is in place, but we have been slowed down by the current [Covid-19] pandemic.”
Jain and Palshikar, whose previous coaching stints on the domestic circuit were with Vidarbha and Goa respectively, underlined that their job at Baroda has to start with creating an environment of trust in the wake of the allegations around Bedade.
“I’ve been a firm believer that appointment of coaches — for men’s or women’s teams — has to be based on merit and passion, not gender,” Jain said. “That said, there’s no denying that given it’s unfortunate what’s happened, our work with the Baroda girls would begin with rebuilding the trust there should be between a coach and his or her players because that’s key to any team’s performance.”
Palshikar echoed Jain, adding that their appointments could also offer an evolved perspective on prevailing gender-biases around coaching in India. “I think for a coach as respected as Anju di and my being approached as a unit and coming together [to train a domestic side] after our time with a national team should help administrators and players [in India] look past any debates [inclined towards favouring male coaches] because of the gender factor. Labelling all male coaches as [morally] bad for women’s teams because they are ‘male’ is as unreasonable as labelling women’s coaches as being incapable or inferior to men because of their gender. Prevalent as the latter outlook especially is, both need a re-look into.”
With additional reporting by Mohammad Isam
Michael Holding: Absence of Bravo, Hetmyer and Paul ‘unfortunate’ for West Indies
Michael Holding, the broadcaster and former West Indies fast bowler, has said the decisions of Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul to opt out of touring England were “unfortunate”, if understandable because of concerns over the Covid-19 situation in the UK.
Earlier this week, West Indies announced a 25-man party to travel for three rearranged Tests against England next month. CWI had previously given guarantees that players would not be forced to go on the tour if they were not comfortable with the safety provisions being put in place. Johnny Grave, CWI’s chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo that Bravo, Hetmyer and Paul all expressed fears about how going to the UK could adversely affect their families.
Speaking in an interview for his YouTube channel, Holding said that while he would not blame any of the players for making that choice, their talents would be missed as West Indies seek to defend the Wisden Trophy.
“The West Indies board, before they were even confirming the tour, had told everyone and the entire public that they would not be forcing anyone to go on this tour,” Holding said. “If any player decided they weren’t absolutely sure about going on tour, they weren’t confident of proceedings they could opt out. And these three guys have opted out.
“I think it’s unfortunate as far as West Indies cricket is concerned. I’m not going to tell anyone that they should be going to England because Covid-19 is around, someone may get sick or even worse. But at the same time I think it’s unfortunate for the West Indies team because these guys have quite a bit of talent, and they’ll be missed.”
Holding made special mention of Bravo, who was dropped for West Indies’ one-off Test against Afghanistan in November, and Hetmyer. Both batsmen were members of the side that beat England 2-1 at home in 2018-19.
Bravo, 31, only returned to the international set-up for that series, after more than two years on the sidelines because of a dispute with the board, and Holding has previously described him as “too talented to be left out”.
“I’m sorry that Bravo in particular isn’t going because Bravo, I think, needs to resuscitate his career,” Holding said. “He started off so brilliantly, everybody thought he was going to be another great West Indian batsman. He hasn’t really fulfilled that. I think the more cricket he can play now, especially for West Indies, the better chance he has of getting back on track and showing everyone the great player that he could be.
“Hetmyer, again, I think he’s a very, very talented player. I think people have heard me talk about him in the past. Again, I’m sorry that he’s not going so that he can get more opportunity to express himself. But I ain’t blaming them for not going.”
Ian Bishop, another former West Indies quick turned commentator, echoed the view that declining to tour should not be held against the trio.
“You have to give players the option because it’s a world health crisis,” Bishop told the Trinidad Express. “If a player decides he does not want to take that health risk, you can’t hold it against him in this context. The players know they are taking a risk if someone who replaced them goes on to have great success. That’s a chance you take.”
West Indies are due to depart the Caribbean on Monday, boarding a specially chartered flight to the UK. On arrival, they will go into quarantine for 14 days before beginning their preparations in Manchester. The first Test is scheduled to begin on July 8 at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, followed by two matches at Emirates Old Trafford, with the whole series taking just three weeks to complete.
The West Indies squad will remain within a “bio-secure bubble” for the duration of their visit, as part of ECB efforts to ensure international cricket during England’s home window, but Holding suggested the experience shouldn’t be viewed as “too much of a hardship” for the tourists.
“I think it’s good. Everyone has been hoping to get back to live sport, because they’ve been watching a lot of recordings – they want to get back to live sport, and cricket in particular,” he said. “Cricket is a game played over quite a few days, so you can get involved in the game, get distracted from other problems or issues that might be going on in life. So it’s good to see cricket is back.
“I’m not too sure about the confinement. They might be confined in one venue, yes, in a hotel, but I wouldn’t really call that confinement, if you think of what’s been happening around the world with the Covid pandemic, because people have been confined to their apartments, a very, very small area. So being confined to one venue, I don’t think that’s too much of a hardship.”
Geoffrey Boycott hits out at BBC following Test Match Special omission | Cricket
Geoffrey Boycott has hit out at the BBC following his omission from Test Match Special’s commentary list for 2020.
Boycott, 79, was the notable absentee on a list of names for a summer of coverage that will feature the first Test cricket to be broadcast on BBC TV for more than 20 years.
And while the BBC implied in a statement to the Guardian that Boycott’s presence during this summer’s Test series against West Indies and Pakistan was a consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak, his response to a Twitter user on the subject implies that it may be a more permanent arrangement.
Replying to a Guardian story suggesting that Boycott’s time at the BBC was up, the user wrote: “White, male, straight, tory and knows about cricket. Surprised he lasted this long at the BBC.”
Boycott retweeted the comment, adding: “Absolutely right”, before subsequently deleting it.
“Due to the current situation, Geoffrey is not part of the commentary team for the [West Indies] series,” a BBC spokesperson said. “However, we are monitoring the situation closely and we hope to look forward to him making an appearance on TMS this summer.”
Isa Guha, the former England women’s World Cup winner, has been named as the BBC’s lead presenter of a daily highlights show during each of the Tests and one-day internationals, alongside the likes of Michael Vaughan, Sir Alastair Cook, Carlos Brathwaite and Phil Tufnell.
Boycott’s association with the BBC dates back to the 1980s. He has been a regular on TMS since 2005, after a stint at Channel 4 during their six years of coverage of Test cricket from 1999 onwards.
Last year he received a knighthood in Theresa May’s resignation honours, a decision that caused controversy following his conviction in a French court in 1998 for assaulting his then partner, Margaret Moore.
He later told the BBC’s Today programme that he “couldn’t give a toss” about the outcry against his knighthood.
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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