Cricket and Covid – How’s the Bear Pack getting new-normal-ready?
Times are changing. As we start to get a glimpse of life beyond COVID-19, there’s the faintest glimmer of hope we might see some cricket this summer. While it’s still early days – we wanted to check in with members of the Bear Pack to discover how they’re preparing for life back in the middle.
From established international stars and county captains to academy prospects and grizzled club stalwarts – here’s how our cricket family are adapting to cricket’s new normal.
New normal: on the international stage
Tymal Mills – Sussex CCC & England
“I’ve been able to focus 100% on building my fitness with Sussex during lockdown. The Zoom gym sessions with the rest of the squad are always a weekly highlight. Luckily the coaches managed to get some gym equipment out to the boys right at the start of lockdown. I also got my hands on a spin bike to keep things ticking over. As you can imagine – there’s plenty of chat bouncing around the players’ WhatsApp keeping everyone’s spirits up.
“Bowling isn’t the easiest skill to work on at home. Even though I’m really, really, really, not much of a runner – I’ve been pushing myself to get some miles in the legs so I’m good to go when the time comes. Walking our pup Cleo has definitely helped keep me on my toes, too. She never gets tired – so she’s the perfect training partner.
“Having a routine has been absolutely key for me. While it’s been awesome to spend more time with my wife as we get closer to the birth of our first mini Mills – I’m definitely missing being out on the park now. Fingers crossed we get chance to play the sport we all love before summer’s out.”
James Cameron-Dow – Ireland & Northern Knights
“I’m missing cricket. A LOT. It’s been a tough few months. I’m sure all of the boys have experienced a fair few ups and downs along the way. But we’re all absolutely raring to go now.
“We haven’t been able to start training together fully. Yet. But it’s getting tantalisingly close. Our clubs are just starting to get up and running with the appropriate restrictions in place. As far as the provincial group goes – we’re due to start training again from around the start of July. Unless anything changes in the meantime.
“So, for the time being, my days pretty much look a lot like they have throughout lockdown. Plenty of miles on the fitness bike. Lots of strength and conditioning work. Squeeze a few decent runs into the week. I’ve made my own little at-home training area where I can do a few basic drills to keep my skills sharp. Ireland also gave us access to a couple of online masterclasses – which have been absolutely brilliant. I’m just ready to put it into practice now!”
New normal: on the county circuit
Will Rhodes – Warwickshire CCC Captain
“As a playing group – we’ve been trying to replicate the tough stuff. Alongside our strength and conditioning programme, the lads have been finding ways to spend a lot of time on their feet. Long hikes and rounds of golf are great substitutes for those long days in the middle where you can’t buy a wicket or need to grind out a score. Especially when you spend more time than you’d like traipsing around the rough looking for lost balls.
“It’s a solitary time. But we’re doing our best to keep the boys together. We have a weekly Zoom call to keep everyone in the loop with the current situation. We’ve been lucky enough to chat to a few special guests each week, too. Talking to all sorts of different people – from Premier League managers to international rugby coaches – has been an awesome experience. And one we might not have had without this enforced break.
“That being said, I don’t think you realise quite how much you miss playing, until you can’t. I’m really looking forward to getting back to training soon. And who knows? Maybe even some game time if we’re lucky.”
Clover Crosse – Hampshire Women
“I count myself very lucky. Living and working on a farm means I have lots of space to practice my cricket skills. We even built a home gym in one of the barns just before Christmas last year – perfect timing!
“I’m currently training in the barn twice a day, six days a week. But it’s not been all fitness. It’s amazing how many creative skill drills you can dream up with just a tennis ball and a wall – from sharpening up your fielding to drop feeding throwdowns to keep your eye in.
“As lockdown continues easing, I’ve been fortunate to be able to start accessing our local club’s net facilities. It’s been an absolutely great feeling to be able to strap my pads back on and feel proper leather cricket balls pinging off the middle of my Kodiak again.
“I’ve definitely missed cricket a lot. The one thing that’s made it easier is that we’re all in it together. It would be so much harder watching on from the sidelines. The girls have been absolutely great at sticking together through it all. Even though we’re all disappointed at the continuing prospect of a much-shortened season – we can’t wait to get back together as soon as it’s safe to.”
Jonny Tattersall – Yorkshire CCC
“It’s been a challenging few months. When cricket’s your life 365 days a year – it’s tough to adjust to not having the focus of that next innings. That next game. That next comp. Especially when there’s no other cricket going on around the world to tune-in to.
“Getting truly match fit was always going to be the biggest hurdle of lockdown. Luckily, it’s not quite the same as coming back from a lengthy injury lay-off, as everyone else is in exactly the same position. With limited facilities at home, I’ve been getting a lot of running, core and bodyweight sessions in. Even though it stresses a lot of different muscle groups to cricket – I’ve found golf a really useful way to stay active and keep things moving.
“At the start of lockdown, I invested in an automatic bobble feeder just to feel some bat on ball. And I’ve been able to work on some basic catching drills with my trusty tennis ball. Sadly, my poker skills haven’t improved over the last couple of months, as some of the Yorkshire lads will happily tell you. We’ve been trying all sorts of virtual team-bonding activities to keep everyone together and morale high. But really we’re all looking forward to getting back out there.”
Luke Hollman – Middlesex CCC
“I am absolutely buzzing to get training – and hopefully playing – again. Safe to say, lockdown hasn’t been my cup of tea. And not being able to play cricket has certainly topped it off.
“To be fair, Middlesex have been absolutely fantastic with us. They’ve been incredibly supportive in keeping the players together and in a routine. Monday is yoga, Tuesday is gym, Wednesday is pilates and Thursday is another gym session. It’s all worked really well over Zoom. Every session is completely optional as we’re furloughed – but being able to keep up the day-to-day training alongside my own cycling and running has been massively beneficial for me.
“Despite not seeing each other for months – morale is still pretty high. We’ve had plenty of really well organised Friday night Zoom socials that have helped mesh the boys together. Now that the golf clubs are back open, we’ve managed to get an inter-club tournament going. It’s been great to see some of the players and the staff again – even from a distance.”
New normal: in the academy
Tara Norris – England Academy, Sussex Women & Loughborough MCCU
“Lockdown life is tricky as a quick. I’m bowling 4 to 8 overs a week off half my run just to keep my action grooved – but it feels a really long time since I was last off the full run-up.
“In the meantime, I’m just staying patient. My day-to-day training is generally strength and conditioning in the morning and some bowling or fielding drills in the afternoon. My housemates have been helping me come up with new drills to keep things fresh. I also like to work hard on my flexibility and mobility with pilates or yoga 3 or 4 times a week. I’ve got no excuses to not look after my body even when it’s difficult to work on cricket skills.
“I’m in regular contact with my coaches. Even though they can’t help me physically at the minute, they’ve been great to talk to. We’ve been working on maximising my training as well as the mental and skill side of the game. Areas we might not have had chance to dive into so much without this set-up.
“Not being able to see my team mates and be in that environment has been difficult. I really miss cricket, but I’m missing the ‘fun factor’ most of all. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before we get the green light from the ECB to safely start enjoying playing again.”
Dominic Leech – Yorkshire CCC Academy
“For me, the mental side of lockdown has been the toughest challenge to overcome. After a long winter of training hard indoors, it’s been very demoralising to not be able to get going the way we would’ve liked. Luckily, the coaching team at Yorkshire have been absolutely great at checking-in with us.
“Of course, they help us keep our strength and conditioning schedule on-point. But beyond the running and drills and skill stuff – they’ve been pulling out all the stops to make sure we’re staying mentally strong, too. The PCA have been awesome on that side of things as well. We’ve had access to online courses and resources to help us feel like we’re still being productive and staying on top of our mental health.
“Having a routine has been massively helpful. I have set training days and have been able to use my garden to get through some bowling drills to keep my action strong. Luckily, I live next door to my local cricket club, so I’m looking forward to using some of their facilities a bit more as we start to get back to normal.”
New normal: around the clubs
Greg Wadsworth – Wakefield Thornes CC
“We’ve been as productive as possible – within the ECB guidelines. Sticking to strict social distancing measures, we’ve been able to undertake some renovation work around the ground and clubhouse to make sure we’re good to go with around a week’s notice or so. We’ve painted, decorated, fertilised, rolled, cut. The ground is in absolutely great shape.
“It’s been really good to see lads back in the nets. We’re running a timetable so that juniors and seniors have their own specific nights where they can book a session. Having the players back around the club has been great fun and has really highlighted how much they make the club what it is.
“On a personal note, the biggest hole for me has been the social stuff. Closely followed by the competitive side of things. I think I’ll only truly realise just how much I’ve missed cricket when I’m on the receiving end of my first sledge of the summer. Hopefully the fact I’ve managed to drop a few pounds during lockdown means it won’t be a fat joke first up. But I honestly can’t wait to find out!”
Charlie Baker – Oakham CC
“2020 is Oakham’s 150th anniversary. So, we knew it was going to be a big one for the club. We didn’t quite envisage this.
“Following three promotions last season, we had the biggest player pool we’d ever had at the club. Alongside a thriving junior section. We’re doing all we can to keep these players together and interested. From Zoom quizzes to WhatsApp fitness challenges – everyone’s really gotten stuck in with the socially-distant social side of things. I’m pleased to report even our Chairman has dropped the wine and steak in favour of Couch to 5K. While 9 of our players ran/cycled the distance to Grange CC in Scotland and back over the course of a week to raise over £1,000 for local charities.
“In terms of playing, we’re ready to get started as soon as the ECB give us the guidance. There have been plenty of creative ideas kicking around the club for how we can get a game on. We’ve put in all the necessary measures around the club for the lads to be able to net safely and within the guidelines. And they’ve been fully booked ever since.
“While it’s quite nice not seeing your first ball flying into the trees every Saturday, this enforced break has certainly confirmed why we play this sport every summer. It’ll be great to get out there to have a hit and enjoy a socially distanced beer with the lads after a day in the field when we can. Which is why we all do it anyway!”