Life outside the bio-bubble brings welcome relief to players | Cricket – SportsMediaz


At the first India press conference ahead of the T20I series against South Africa, a sense of normalcy was apparent as soon as Rahul Dravid walked into the hall at Feroz Shah Kotla. After almost two years of bio-bubbles where online interactions with players and coaches had become the norm, the India head coach was just a few metres away from the press posse, ready to open up on his plans for the series and the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia.

“It’s nice to not have a laptop screen in front of you while talking,” said Dravid once he settled down, evoking wide laughter from the room.

Just a few minutes earlier, Rishabh Pant drove in for practice along with teammate Ishan Kishan in his swanky, regal blue Mercedes. The 24-year-old from Delhi was travelling to the stadium from the comfort of his home rather than having to stay in the team hotel due to bio-bubble compulsions. At the nets, a few casual observers also engaged in light-hearted banter with Pant from close proximity, much to the amusement of the local boy.

Pant visited Sonnet Club – where he learned the nuances of the game under the late Tarak Sinha – the next day, meeting coach Devender Sharma and young trainees at his old academy. According to Sharma, it was Pant’s first visit to the club in more than two years due to bio-bubble restrictions.

None of this had been possible ever since the Indian players returned to action in the IPL in September 2020 after the first few months of the Covid pandemic. The schedule has been unforgiving as usual since then and the complexities of playing and living in a bio-bubble have certainly taken a mental toll on many players. The only exception during this period was perhaps the Test series in England last year, when the restrictions were slightly relaxed to allow the players more leeway.

“In the last 24 months, they’ve been home for 25 days. I don’t care who you are, if your name is Bradman, if you’re in a bubble as well, your average will come down because you’re human,” former India head coach Ravi Shastri had said at the end of his reign in November 2021.

While Covid hasn’t entirely gone away – South Africa batter Aiden Markram testing positive at the start of the series served as a note of caution – the India-SA series progressing smoothly without any bio-bubble in place must certainly come as a relief to the players. At each of the five venues for the series, fans turned up in decent numbers to even watch training sessions on match eve.

“There are a lot of fans in this country. A lot of people are gathering near you. This is just the first series (without the bio-bubble). Everyone is taking time to get used to it. We have gotten accustomed to being in a closed environment where there is nobody around you. There was distance from the people. A lot of fans are again coming closer to us and asking for pictures and stuff,” opener Ruturaj Gaikwad told reporters.

The situation has been no different for players from other teams of course. South African pacer Anrich Nortje is simply relieved that the players have regained the freedom to move around as they like.

“Just being freer and walking around and not being told to be on one floor or in one room is just a relief. Things are going on sort of as normal. It feels like we have more freedom. You are not like a Grade 1 student who gets told what to do every single minute of the day. Having that (liberty again) is really nice,” Nortje said.

According to Gaikwad, the one upside under bio-bubbles, though, was that there was a more conscious effort made to bond as a team.

“Being in a bubble for a longer period of time was obviously tough, but one good thing is that the team bonding increased no matter which team I played for. There were a lot of team activities and that will hopefully stay in the coming years as well,” said Gaikwad.


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