Australia have appointed a mental health manager and introduced boxing sessions to help players cope with life in anti-coronavirus 'bubbles', with some facing the prospect of months in controlled environments as international cricket resumes. The Australians, minus those at the Indian Premier League, are now in 14 days' isolation at a hotel adjoining Adelaide Oval after five weeks in a bio-secure environment in England, where they pulled off a dramatic one-day series win over the world champions.
Some, like coach Justin Langer, face a further fortnight in quarantine when they cross state borders and return to their home bases, with more of the same awaiting players throughout the Australian cricketing summer. With players spending extended periods in bubbles, away from their families, Langer is acutely aware that managing mental health is as important as his players' physical wellbeing as they prepare to take on India in a Test series.
"We've got to always recognise that when we talk about our sportspeople, whether it's cricketers or football players or rugby players, they are also human beings and we must respect that," he said in a Zoom call on Monday. "There are certainly challenges, but we are aware of that. We are keeping an eye on them to make sure they are all staying physically and mentally healthy."
When Cricket Australia explained to the players what the summer schedule might look like, "the blood drained out of some of their faces", Langer added.
Depending on playing commitments, Cricket Australia has forecast some could experience up to 150 days in the controlled environments required by coronavirus protocols. "It's a long time away from our families and home. But we know the sacrifices we have to take to ensure cricket stays up and running and we keep entertaining people," he said.
To help them cope, Cricket Australia has appointed a new mental health manager and Langer has introduced boxing. "I know from a lifetime of doing it, there is a real advantage of staying fit and healthy and letting off some steam," he said. "It's as much to keep us stimulated."
But for the ever-competitive Langer, it is not all just for fun. "I've said for many, many years that the best form of training for batting, particularly, is boxing because you have to concentrate, it's footwork, it's technique. You've got to have good defence and offence."
Australia are scheduled to play four Tests against India from early December, with a one-off Test against Afghanistan in November, although the dates and venues have yet to be confirmed. "We will take real confidence out of England, the guys coming back from the IPL will take real confidence out of that, there will be four Sheffield Shield (red ball) games leading up to the summer," he said.
"So we will be well prepared and we'll be hanging out to play cricket for Australia and we'll be ready to take on India, and what a huge contest."