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How Can Indian Cricketers Overcome Bio-bubble Fatigue and Extended Travels Away From Home

By: Nikhil Narain

Last Updated: June 02, 2021, 10:37 IST

"How they have scheduled this tour, I don’t know. I hope they get to play some matches before the Tests. Because playing county games helps to get into the groove, get acclimatised to the conditions" Photo: BCCI

"How they have scheduled this tour, I don’t know. I hope they get to play some matches before the Tests. Because playing county games helps to get into the groove, get acclimatised to the conditions" Photo: BCCI

Life will not be easy for Virat Kohli and Co. for the next six months.

The Indian Men’s Cricket team is set to embark on what would be a three and a half month-long tour to England on the 2nd of June. They will arrive in the United Kingdom via a charter flight and would move from one bubble to the other keeping in mind the rules and regulations of the visiting country. A possible six months away from home coupled with long periods of no competitive action after the WTC final followed by a packed five-Test series against the hosts and then another bubble transfer without any rest to play the IPL and in all likelihood the World T20 also in the UAE – it will be a test of character, mental toughness, fatigue, endurance and also physical stamina and fitness for the Men in Blue as they leave the Indian shores on Wednesday.

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Life will not be easy for Virat Kohli and Co. for the next six months. Although most of them travel with their families they are bound to miss home and feel homesick at some point especially with the Covid-19 pandemic still surging across the length and breadth of the country. The Indian team has already gone through life in two overseas bio bubbles last year. They played the IPL in the UAE under restricted conditions in 2020 and then had to go through some hard quarantine norms during their long tour of Down Under from November to January.

“It’s repetitive and it does get difficult at times because it is repetitive. These things will have to be considered. Like what length of the tournament or series one is going to play and what impact it will have on players mentally to stay in a similar environment for 80 days and not do anything different. Or have space to just go and see family or small things like that. These things have to be thought about seriously. At the end of the day, you want the players to be in the best state mentally, based on how they are feeling,” stated the Indian captain Virat Kohli after the IPL in the UAE.

Well-known Sports and Performance Psychology Consultant, Sarah Majid, based out of the United Kingdom, gave her inputs on the subject. Majid stated that Indian cricket players are professionals who are used to being away from home for long periods. However, she added that the tough part was to be away from your country when the country is probably going through its worst phase and health crisis in the last 100 years.

Speaking exclusively to Cricketnext, Majid said, “The Indian cricketers are professionals who are used to being away from families for long periods of time either when they are training or when they go on tours. So being away from family if they chose to not take their wives and children with them to England is not such a big issue. The bigger issue and this is the tough part – is to perform 7000 kms away knowing the devastation happening back in India. India is going through its worst health crisis of the last 100 years and everyone, even the cricketers have someone, some relative or friend who has been severely affected by Covid. Knowing that to be away from home and perform at the highest level is tough.”

“There is a sense of guilt. Even Olympians you know – they will think I am going to Tokyo to compete at this mega world event when thousands and millions back home are dying and suffering. Ultimately the Indian cricketers play for India and there is a sense of patriotism and pride. When India is suffering it will hurt the cricketers too,” added Majid.

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Many big names in international cricket and none other than England limited overs’ captain, Eoin Morgan recently spoke about the struggles of staying in tight quarantine and bio bubbles stating that it is taking a toll on the players. He added that remaining in isolation for a long period of time will be detrimental to a player’s mental and emotional well-being.

The same point had been emphasized by Australia’s 50-over and 20-over captain, Aaron Finch who had stated, “Mental health is something to monitor heavily. I know from an Australian point of view there’s a lot of work behind the scenes going into making sure there’s as good a goal post in place for players and really tailored approaches to make sure that we’ve got all our checkpoints in place to understand and recognise when things might be a little bit off. It could be a few months that people are in these bio bubbles and being stuck in a hotel room by yourself can be really tough.”

India will possibly be away from home for half a year and will be moving from one bubble to the other. It is but natural that at some point frustration is bound to set in – the frustration of not being home with parents and loved ones, the frustration of being out of their comfort zone and above all frustration of feeling ‘caged’ getting into one hard quarantine after the other. It will not be easy but Majid suggested that they have to see the larger picture and that these protocols were only in place for their well-being and of their families.

“It is what it is. It is tough but the Indian team is doing their job and they have to see the larger picture – of what is happening around the world. The quarantine has been put in place for a reason and has to be respected. Otherwise, they risk themselves and their families (if travelling with them) and the society at large,” remarked Majid.

The renowned psychologist recommended ‘meditation’ as an absolute necessity during these times especially for Indian cricketers travelling to England.

“Meditation is a must during these times. It improves your focus and concentration, makes you calm and relaxed. It helps you to filter the noise and be in your zone,” said Majid.

She then went on to elaborate on the different types of meditations which could be beneficial for the Indian team in England. She added that the more popular method was CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which focuses on changing thoughts to change emotions but she herself followed the opposite method of Mindfulness Meditation.

“There are 102 different types of meditation depending on what suits an individual and his/her personality. The one I recommend is mindfulness meditation where you observe your breath and you are in a ‘being’ mode rather than the ‘doing’ mode. It is about being in the present, accepting the circumstances and becoming an observer of things you cannot control and only focusing on the things you can control. And the only thing you can control is your thoughts, your emotions and your behaviour.”

Majid then stated the need for the Indian players in England to work on their emotional stress emphasizing that it was an area that most Indian athletes neglect.

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“Cricketers in India or any top athletes are always taught to suppress their emotions as they have to focus on their performance. Over a period of time these get built up and can have a massive negative effect especially on long away tours like the one to England. This is where meditation can help these players to reconnect with themselves and their emotions,” stated Majid.

Majid stated that another challenge when everyone was in a hard quarantine or moving from one bubble to the other was to ensure that each and every one is in a positive frame of mind.

“It is extremely important when everyone is isolating together that no one is in a negative frame of mind as that can have a ripple effect and take down the whole morale of the team. One has to get up well in the morning and that has to do with the mind. Diet and nutrition and training can help but during these times away from home it is your mind that has to harbour positive thoughts. Rest will all follow, “stated Majid re-emphasizing the need for training the mind of the Indian cricketers before and during the tour of England.

One of the biggest hurdles cricketers will have to undergo is dealing with monotony and boredom during their three and a half month tour of England. Post the WTC Final the contingent in England does not play international cricket for one and half months till the five-Test series against the hosts starts in early August. There will be almost nothing to do except train and play inter-squad matches but Majid feels that this is a good break in an otherwise hectic life of an Indian cricketer.

“In India there is a mindset that if you are not doing anything you are wasting time and are lazy. That is a very wrong notion. Athletes of the level of the Indian cricket team require rest and recuperation. So it is a blessing in disguise that they will be able to spend quality time with their families or even alone in these secured bio-bubbles. They can just relax and take it easy and rejuvenate. It is very important,” stated Majid.

Majid added that this spare time will also allow cricketers to bond with one another and spend quality time with each other which will only build the camaraderie in the team – a sentiment echoed by Mumbai Indians’ skipper Rohit Sharma at the end of the 2020 IPL in the UAE.

“We have had some good times in the bubble, especially during the IPL in the UAE we had some solid memories that we created. Plus the bubble life in Australia and now in India, when we played against England. It was good, we got to know a lot of players who usually don’t come out of their rooms. So we had the team room where we used to go and chill and talk about a lot of stuff which was nice, which is something I feel has changed from the previous year. It’s nice to have the company around and have that bonding going,” stated Rohit.

A lot of Indian cricketers watch a number of shows on OTT platforms in their free time, some spend it with their families while others read a book or watch some old cricket matches on you-tube.

Majid elaborated on some more innovative ways to spend time in England.

“They should do a lot of creative things like painting, drawing, carpentry and play some interesting games. The idea is to do things which make you relax. There is uncertainty about the future due to Covid. Leave the stress and high pressure moments for when you play but make the most of your spare time when you can – as you might end up playing one series after the other without any break owing to the schedules constantly changing and chopping because of the virus.”

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When asked how does the team, especially the players not travelling with family deal with loneliness, Majid had an interesting reply.

“A lot of top players including cricketers deliberately choose not to travel with their families as it only adds to their worry and tension. What if my wife and child get Covid during travel? How will they cope being in isolation? So a lot of cricketers might actually prefer for their families to be in their comfort zones back at home. It lessens their anxiety.”

Apart from the star cricketers, a lot of support staff, media officials and broadcasters are also a part of the contingent and have to follow the Covid-19 bio-bubble norms and regulations strictly. But unlike the players, they are not allowed to travel with their families which makes their time away from home that much harder.

“The biggest challenge staying in isolation is not staying fit physically but the effect it has on our mental and emotional well-being,” quoted one member of the leading broadcaster for the tour to England.

“Staying alone in a room when not working, remaining on the same floor in the hotel and boredom – these are some of the issues we face in the bubble,” added the member.

He further said that while they devise ways of keeping themselves entertained and to fight boredom and monotony, what really takes a toll is staying away from family when on a long tour.

“The biggest challenge for us is staying away from families for long periods of time. Some of our relatives may get Covid (and have) during this period, some may be hospitalised but we can’t do anything. It becomes very difficult to work and focus in such a situation.”

The positive he added was that they get to mingle with their colleagues and other famous experts which otherwise would not have been possible in a busy hectic life in Mumbai.

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first published:June 02, 2021, 10:35 IST
last updated:June 02, 2021, 10:37 IST