Around 30 of England’s male cricketers will return to individual training from next week as the ECB announced measures to ensure the safety of its players and coaches.
From Monday, centrally contracted bowlers and invited county bowlers will begin tailored programmes in controlled environments at seven venues across the country, in line with the government’s elite sport return to training guidance. After a two-week period, once the bowlers have reached their desired loading efforts, dedicated batsmen and wicketkeepers will start their programmes on an individual basis with four more grounds to be used.
Of the work needed to get match fit, a bowler’s need is greater and more specialized. If the earliest scenario of an 8 July start of a Test series against West Indies comes to fruition, this six-week lead-in will be ideal for seamers and spinners to reacquaint themselves with their craft and build up durability with overs bowled in a net, even if competitive action will be lacking ahead of what may be a grueling few months if things go to plan. The bowlers will be a bigger group to cover injury, for net bowling purposes and, going forward, for practice matches.
The 30 or so to be picked will be decided by a committee of managing director of men’s cricket Ashley Giles, performance director Mo Bobat, head coach Chris Silverwood and selectors. Giles was keen to stress squads are not equivalent to “England selection”. “These are guys with a red ball focus who may or may not have been involved in our system, this winter and before, who we’d like to go back to training”. A full list of players will be released next week.
Sessions will be staggered with strict adherence to social distancing and hygiene, with temperate testing protocols for players and staff before training. They will source and fund Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their medical officers to carry out these checks. Those medical officers or county physios will be in attendance along with a coach and, depending on availability, a strength and conditioning coach. The aim, as Giles states, is to ensure “it’s safer to go back to practice than it is to go to the supermarket”.
“I’ve already spoken to a number of CEOs around the country we’re trying to get help from because in this early phase we don’t want guys traveling a lot, we want them to train at their own local venue,” said Giles. “We’ve had a lot of support which is great there’s a real united front on this and I think everyone understands the importance to the game of getting international cricket on this year from the economic point of view.
“We’re definitely going to have to mobilize the help of some of our network coaches which is great. So an example, at one venue guys may train individually but with the same coach, a single coach for four or five bowlers.”
That mobilization will involve enlisting coaches and indeed some players who have been furloughed by their counties on the government’s jog retention scheme. The ECB will have to pay for their time so they do not contravene the terms of their furlough with their specific employers. “There is a cost to putting cricket on,” mused Giles, “but there is a much bigger cost to not playing cricket at the moment.”
While players admit to a degree of trepidation at coming back, with Jos Buttler stating on Wednesday that he had “natural apprehension” about the prospect of returning to outdoor training next week, no player has ruled themselves out so far. Information and assurance have been constant from the ECB, and there is no pressure on players to take part in these sessions should there be any worry over safety.
“In terms of individuals – there are opt-outs – we are not going to force anyone to go back to training or playing if they are not comfortable. Through that physical and mental screening process, we will do our due diligence and see where individuals are. In this first phase, this should be a safer environment than going about daily life as it is – shopping, etc. We are also outside where we know the risks are far less.
“These are different circumstances and there will be no prejudice. It is what it is, it’s an individual choice, but I hope we can put things in place and an environment that’s safe enough for guys to trust us that they can go back and take those first tentative steps to cricket.”
The longer-term goals pertain to creating what Giles describes as “a household of 35 players and staff”, whereby behind-closed-door Test matches can take place at secure venues that allow players to co-exist without too many constraints – just as a family would go about as normal in their own homes. Much of that is dependent on how government advice on the easing of lockdown changes accordingly.