May 22, 2020
Andrew MillerUK editor, ESPNcricinfo
- Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England’s historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate – it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Chris Woakes believes that his first day back at training has given him an insight into how the rest of the England summer will pan out, after admitting that the strict social-distancing protocols at his home ground of Edgbaston would “take up some headspace”.
Woakes bowled five overs at about 50% intensity on Thursday, on his return to outside practice, using the box of six balls that each member of the England squad has been allocated since the ban on sporting activity was partially lifted by the UK government.
And while he said that his hour-long session was “literally about turning the arm over and getting things moving again”, the measures taken to protect the players from contracting Covid-19 were a central part of the experience, from taking his temperature and uploading it to an app before leaving his house, to following a prescribed route into Edgbaston, the venue that looks set to host Pakistan’s training camp ahead of their planned three-Test series in August.
“The venues and counties have tried to make this as safe as possible,” Woakes said. “In my eyes, they’ve done a really good job. I knew exactly how I was going to go into the ground. You have to drive your own car – at the minute there’s a lot of testing going on at Edgbaston, with the testing facility – [so I] parked in a safe area at the back, and walked onto the pitch through the Hollies Stand. This has all been planned in the last few weeks, so it’s as safe as possible, we don’t come into contact with anyone.
“I took everything I needed for training with me: bottles, towels, medicine balls, bands that I use for warming up. I was given a box of balls, ready there for me to use once I got into the ground. And then those balls are now mine. No one else will touch them – the whole thing of having one skin on each ball.
“It was all very strict. On arrival there’s a station where you can wash your hands and put anti-bac on before you start. There was a physio from Warwickshire there with me but, again, we don’t come into contact. We stayed more than two metres apart and I did my training. It took about an hour, and then I walked back through the Hollies to my car and left.”
The need to ensure no overlap with team-mates means that the players’ sessions are tightly scheduled at this stage of the process, before they progress to “contact clusters” in the coming weeks, ahead of the proposed start of the West Indies Test series in July. And though Woakes admitted he was glad to get back to work after an extraordinary period of downtime, he did acknowledge that the circumstances would take some getting used to.
Stuart Broad shared the different steps he has needed to take to return to training on his Instagram
“I guess it’s a bit of a window [into the new reality],” he said. “Cricket is not generally a contact sport, so that helps, but we will get more of an inkling when we start practising more as a team, and have more people training at a venue. There are no changing rooms involved at the moment, match mode will look a lot different.
“Off the park, it will take up quite a bit of headspace. The world we are living does take up some headspace. But on the field you want 100% concentration, whether that is batting or bowling, and cricketers and sportsmen in general are quite good at focusing on the job in hand. But the ECB, the venues and counties are going above and beyond making it as safe as possible, so that will help us as players.”
Some habits will have to change on the field, however, in particular the ingrained bowler’s instinct to polish the ball with saliva, which has now been outlawed by the ICC.
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“You’re going to have remind yourself that you can’t use those things to shine the ball,” said Woakes. “Don’t get me wrong, you can shine the ball without saliva and sweat, it probably just doesn’t have the same effect. You might have to work a little bit harder on the rubbing on the trousers, but luckily enough the ball moves around in England anyway.
“You don’t always have to work overly hard on the ball, so hopefully that’ll work in our favour a bit. Thankfully it’s a Dukes and not a Kooka this summer, because then we would be struggling.”
One trend that could catch on this summer is the use of bowler’s headbands, with both Woakes and Stuart Broad taking to wearing them in their practice sessions. However, while Broad said on Instagram that his had been a bid to prevent sweat running down his face, Woakes claimed that he was merely keeping his hair out of his eyes after several weeks without a trim.
“I haven’t had it cut in 12 weeks apart from the wife doing the sides,” he said. “The alice band will probably be a feature for a while until I can get it cut.”
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