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


  • Well I haven’t watched a full T20 match for about 6 years and have no interest in this. I suppose anyone can win it in the day anyway.

    As for the bubble life; well on their salaries and staying in first class hotels with every facility I doubt that many will be staring at the wall. I thing. Mr and Mrs Average worker in the UK have more to worry about yet again with all the nonsense coming out of SAGE and the other “experts” at the moment.
    Sorry, but I can’t really sympathise with professional cricketers perceived problems.

    • They might not be literally staring at the wall, but on the other hand some parts of at least some bubbles have been more akin to a prison than normal life. There were at least two international tours last winter where we’re told the players weren’t allowed to either leave the room or open the windows for two weeks and were alloed to open the door only to pick up a tray of food that had been left on the floor outside.

      Are you REALLY sure that you could accept that with as much equanimity as you pretend? Would you volunteer to have that sort of restriction on the basis that you’d be paid well for it and it would only be for a few weeks? I know I wouldn’t. Maybe you would, but it comes across a bit like the sort of “they don’t know how easy they’ve got it” comment from someone who’s never experienced anything like that.

      The other thing is that a lot of the mental effects will come from the repeated nature of these bubbles, even where some of them are more relaxed. If you’re an England or India player with an IPL deal, you’ll be bubbled most of the time now–or for that matter a cricketer-for-hire franchise player: I read an interview with Rashid Khan recently where he said that he’d only spent a few nights at home in two or three years. That might be just about sustainable if you’re an ambitious 23-year-old, but probably not if you’re a 30-something with young children.

  • Agree with most of the article but unfair on Moeen. He gets moved up and down the order randomly to suit, no consistency and no plan. Why was he sent home from India? England’s policy is let’s have 4 near identical medium pacers and if we pick a spinner at all it is to block an end and economy not wicket taking is the objective. All the decent weather cricket in the County Championship is limited over stuff. End result at home we are reasonable because the wicket does the work. In Australia we will inevitably be thrashed by a bog average Aussie team.

    • Moeen wasn’t sent home from India–where have you got that from?! (Like all the other multi-format players, he was rested at one point in the tour, the idea being to stop those who were constantly bubbled going mad).

      I rather struggle to see how James is being unfair to Moeen. About red-ball, he’s clearly sympatheic. On white-ball, he’s possibly a little harsh on his bowling–but it is an opinion which seems (wrongly, in my view) to be shared by the management at both CSK and England.

  • I used to like the T20WC but now the format is consuming the rest of the game I’m struggling to raise much enthusiasm for this.

    The “minnows” got their usual grotty treatment – an attempt to pretend that the matches this week are part of the tournament while the big boys played warm-ups at the same time and the media haven’t advertised the competition much until now.

    Liew wrote an interesting article in the Guardian about players like Chris Greaves and the future the game has to offer them.

  • A good point about touring and the opportunities it afforded Pre Covid for combining a holiday off the field with the playing job on it, so there was a balance to being away from home so long. Now there isn’t that opportunity or balance to get rid of the stresses and if this goes on there’s only going to be more players pulling out of tours completely as the financial rewards for cricketers, outside the IPL, are limited.

    • I agree that there will be more players pulling out of tours (and for that matter retiring!), but I think you’ve got it upside down in relation to remuneration.

      Of course there aren’t the huge sums floating about in other leagues, but surely the difference now is that (unlike even ten years ago) you can make a very handsome living by the economic standards of any country in the world without going anywhere near the IPL, international cricket, red-ball cricket or the Big Bash League.

      That should be a gigantic warning bell to people in charge of red-ball cricket of any sort or international cricket in particular.

      • They may make comfortable livings at the top of the cricketing tree as long as they remain there but because of the short domestic season it’s always been financially tough for most unless they get on tour. Going abroad to coach or play is only an option for some.
        Our top cricketers play more internationals than any other sport over 3 distinct formats so the potential for burn out is increasing all the time. Along with most sportsmen by the time you’re 40 you’re over the hill with few transferable skills to go into another career, so you need a nest egg, which is why so many ex players end up as pundits.
        Look at the example of Matthew Hoggard, who had real financial troubles after his enforced retirement, despite a long and fruitful England career.

  • Oh, India are in the same groups as Pakistan again – what a surprise. When exactly did tournament rigging for profit become acceptable and why does not a single mainstream media outlet call them out on this? If those running the game find this acceptable to make money, who’s to say they don’t find other things acceptable too?

    Meanwhile the tournament proper (for such it is – let’s not kid ourselves) kicks offf with a comically inept performance from SA. An accurate showcase of the state of world cricket then.

    Funny how the TV director is showing a fondness for crowd shots of spectators wearing masks or sitting in ridiculous pens. Anyone who can’t see that people are being shown as animals, muzzled and herded, is beyond hope.

  • Moeen bowled all 4 overs consecutively in the powerplay today, took 2 wickets, had an economy rate below 5, and was awarded the player of the match award. Hardly cobbling together a few overs as the 5th bowler .

    • Well to be honest if you don’t have Sky you wouldn’t even know it was on. Not sure anyone really give a toss.


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