Remember all those months when you couldn’t leave the house. Now imagine a similar time when you couldn’t go home. So it is for the majority of Australian cricketers. And it becomes an out of sight problem.
It is politically incorrect to sympathize with professional athletes who are paid copiously to live their dreams while other people cook and wash. But the limitation to luxury is still limitation. An ivory tower is sometimes a lonely place. House arrest in a beautiful house is still an arrest.
For some Australian gamers, life has been a succession of bio hubs with little or no daytime vacation since mid-August. They were on a one day series in England, then in the United Arab Emirates while playing IPL, then in a hub in Sydney for the India series and / or the Sheffield Shield and / or the Big Bash League. Their protection was their prison.
Cricketers are finely programmed and coordinated, but not machines. Steve Smith had been looking forward to seeing his wife Dani in Melbourne for Christmas for the first time in 121 days. Then the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney made this impossible. Smith posted a 2013 Christmas picture of the couple on social media. The couple were eventually reunited on New Year’s Eve, but they return to their split on Monday.
If you can’t hurt Smith personally, at least consider what role it could play in the breakdown of his form. No insult to the Australian coach but on those sleepless nights, Smith has to wish he had someone to turn to other than Justin Langer.
It’s not over yet, far from over. The test group was looser in Adelaide and Melbourne, but will go back to strict quarantine for the matches in Sydney and Brisbane. Then there is the rest of the BBL season. From mid-February, Australia will split up into two teams, one for a test series in South Africa and one for one-day in New Zealand.
Aside from the debate over how this will make the cap cheaper, it is possible the team for New Zealand is in a bubble and certain that if the series goes on, the party for South Africa will be in a straitjacket. By then, some players will be wrapped in bubble wrap for more than six months.
It can neither be healthy for the individual balance nor for the harmony in the team. Gluing is one thing, gluing together is another. Years ago, Australia cut the number of players it toured England because too many fringe players risked disruption with sinking hopes and mounting frustrations.
The current Australian hub consists of 18 players. This is necessary because COVID-19 protocols make it impossible to bring replacements in the short term. But it is the kind of need that can easily lead to discord.
The players don’t complain because they know no one is going to listen. They are aware that it’s not like the rest of us will live high on the pig in 2020. And they hope, like us, that this is a short-term agreement. The ACA bite their tongue because they know there is currently no alternative.
Australian players train at the MCG. The bubble was looser for the team in Melbourne but will contract in Sydney and Brisbane. Photo credit: Getty Images
You can say you don’t have to IPL play. But how many would turn their backs on a million dollar fee? You can say they don’t have to do it at all when it’s that hard. But would you be happy if Pat Cummins wraps it up and goes home now?
It can be said that Australia doesn’t have to play that much cricket, but it is a bankable opponent for countries like New Zealand and South Africa, and Australian cricket knows its obligation to be a good cricket citizen.
At its core, it’s about heads. Before every year, ask almost every administrator how the No.. Read. 1 problem in sport and most likely you would have heard it was for the good of the players. This is undeniable in cricket. It’s a game that messes up the mind anyway and poses an omnipresent threat to the skulls. Will Pucovski cut both barrels.
Now there is only one item at the top of every agenda. But if cricket does its lodging with the pandemic, it has to accept that it cannot always be five-star lodging behind a cordon sanitaire for everyone. There must be other resorts. This could mean that leading players stand out not only from casual games but also from series. This means sophisticated mental health planning. It will mean understanding.
What most of us missed in 2020 was normalcy and family. Believe it or not, you make cricketers.
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Sydney, New Year’s Eve, Coronavirus
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