Travel, fatigue, and the restrictions of life in a bio-bubble – a few words that have been heavily discussed in the recent past in the cricketing world. Members of the Indian men’s team, who exited the 2021 T20 World Cup on Monday, 8 November, were among the most heard voices in the matter.
It wasn’t the first time this conversation stole the headlines. And it’s unlikely to be the last as the Indian men’s team’s schedule continues to be unrelenting on the players, and of course results in accountants keeping quite busy.
Captain Virat Kohli, ace pacer Jasprit Bumrah, and the former head coach Ravi Shastri have all made it amply clear, that long tours and schedules need to be re-examined, especially in times of the pandemic.
After the defeat against New Zealand, Bumrah said: "Sometimes you need a break. You miss your family. You've been on the road for six months. But when you're on the field, you don't think of all those things. Obviously staying in a bubble and staying away from your family for such a long period of time does play a role.”
Kohli was eloquent about it in Pune after the England series while Shastri was his usual straight-talking self in Dubai after India saw off Namibia at a canter. Kohli though had expressed his concerns well before 2021 rolled on, during the IPL in UAE in 2020, noting that the “repetitive” nature of being in a bio-bubble can be mentally tough on cricketers and that length of tours need to be considered in a world battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the sport’s fittest athlete, Virat Kohli, cries himself hoarse, in as many words and with subtle hints, one would hope that his paymasters, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), would take note. But the BCCI led by President Sourav Ganguly and Secretary Jay Shah aren’t seemingly on the same page.
What’s Next for India After the World Cup?
After the T20 World Cup, the Indian men’s team host New Zealand beginning 17 November up until 7 December. For the T20Is against NZ, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin are among the senior players in the squad.
After a 10-day breather, India are back on the field in South Africa for a full tour comprising three Tests and ODIs, and 4 T20Is.
Once back in the final week of January 2022, India take on West Indies for six white-ball games after which Sri Lanka come calling for two Tests and three T20Is – all of which get completed by the third week of March.
And while there isn’t a date set in stone for the next season of the IPL, it is highly unlikely that the BCCI will change the window for the tournament which has seen two new teams added to the roster. Ten teams in the IPL also means more games (14 additional matches), which means there’ll be more dates on the calendar for the players to strike off before a brief breather after the glitzy tournament.
Once the IPL is over, one expects it to end in the final days of May, India play South Africa in five T20Is before going to England for one Test and six white-ball games from early July.
Since Cricket Returned in the Pandemic…
The Indian men cricketers have played the IPL behind closed doors in UAE, then exchanged wins for bruises in Australia before welcoming England at home for a full tour which ended on 28 March.
You’d think that would be enough to warrant a break from the game for the much-loved cricketers.
But as the calendar turned to April, “Well, Hello”, said IPL 2021!
Back in bio-bubbles and travelling across the country, the Indian cricketers were forced into a break from the field when COVID-19 hit the IPL and the tournament was suspended early on 4 May. By the end of the month, the players were back to the repetitive routine as the long three-and-a-half month England tour beckoned.
Once the gruelling England tour was over, India’s cricketers were off for part two of IPL 2021 and then right into the T20 World Cup a few days later.
Has the BCCI Responded to Talk of Fatigue?
To put it very simply, the BCCI has not talked about respite for the players despite the statements from senior players.
In fact, earlier in 2021, Ganguly himself said Indian players were more tolerant and added that it boiled down to training yourself mentally, citing the Australians pulling out of a tour of South Africa.
And while the Indian team have always spoken along the lines of being there for each other, the BCCI might do well in taking a leaf out of the England cricket administration’s storied playbook, and allow players to rotate and take breaks. Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and coach Chris Silverwood are among the prime examples from the English camp to have been afforded some time away to recharge.
The Indian cricket fan would love to see their favourites doing their thing for as long as possible, but imagine how much it would hurt the team above all, if a Bumrah had to finish his career a couple of years early because of fatigue-related troubles.
The demand is there, whether from fans or the administrators, but the supply stream’s quality might not be top-drawer all the time, especially so frequently.
Will the Indian cricket system follow the English way? It’s definitely easier said than done but isn’t it always better late than never?