Lokendra Pratap Sahi
Yet again, concerns over life in extended bio-secure bubbles have been voiced by Virat Kohli, the powerful Team India and Royal Challengers Bangalore captain. His sentiments are shared by many, with fears that some players may find the restrictions for months to be too much to bear.
At the end of the engagements against England, Virat said: “Scheduling needs to be looked at in future, because playing in ‘bubbles’ for so long, for two-three months, is going to be very, very difficult…
“You can’t expect everyone to be at the same level of mental strength. At times, you do get cooked and feel like a bit of change.”
For a better appreciation of ‘bubbles’, which only add to the pressure associated with the high-profile IPL, this Columnist connected with Wayne Bentley, team manager of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). He also works with the England & Wales Cricket Board.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India draws up the protocol and each franchise has the responsibility to implement everything listed. To oversee implementation, the Board assigns a bio-secure bubble integrity manager for all eight franchises.
Internally, to ensure there is no breach of the ‘bubble’, the team manager communicates and coordinates. Now, over to Bentley…
Q: For the aam aadmi’s benefit, what is a bio-secure bubble?
A: It’s just a safe environment created for players to live and work, which in this case is to play cricket.
Q: Biggest challenge putting in place a ‘bubble’…
A: The No.1 challenge is keeping the players (and support staff) away from their loved ones – spouse, children and more. Then, basic activities like going to a restaurant are not possible. The scene is very critical right now, with Covid-19 numbers increasing every day, so one has to stay safe. I’d like to add that taking care of each other while in a ‘bubble’ is crucial as one is away from the family for such long periods of time.
Q: I assume lessons learnt from IPL 2020, in the UAE, have been put to good use in preparing the bio-secure bubble for the upcoming edition of the IPL. Your take?
A: Definitely. Last year, most of the players entered the ‘bubble’ for the first time. They didn’t know what to expect, were locked up in their rooms and even getting fresh air was a challenge. This year, most are better prepared, especially those who have featured either in international or domestic series/tournaments and have been exposed to ‘bubbles’ elsewhere. The players are a lot more relaxed this time and know what to expect.
Q: Going by the feedback after IPL 2020, what was the top criticism of the ‘bubble’ by players and the support staff?
A: Being away from one’s loved ones is always the biggest challenge for those having to follow the protocol.
Q: Is mental adjustment the most demanding of challenges?
A: Look, from the franchise’s point of view, the mental well-being of everyone in the ‘bubble’ is important. Being connected to each other and staying occupied is critical. Fortunately, we have great practice facilities that help in keeping the players out of their rooms. They enjoy the long sessions in the field and in the gym… Great internet connectivity too is a challenge. As everyone is using the same internet connection, there are bound to be issues. Hassle-free video calls help.
Q: Talking specifically of KKR, how much has life changed because of the bio-secure bubbles?
A: We have all accepted that, being part of a ‘bubble’, there will be challenges, but the love for the sport makes up for it.
Q: Is there actually a difference between a bio-secure bubble during a Test series/ODIs/T20Is and the one put in place for a tournament such as the IPL?
A: The ‘bubbles’ are the same, with the same protocol required to be followed. However, there is a difference when hotels are in the stadium complex itself, like in Southampton. Players and support staff are then at the venue itself throughout.
When the dates of IPL 2021 were announced, the Pandemic appeared to be under control. Since then, however, there has been a surge of Covid-19 cases. So, fingers crossed.