Robin Uthappa and Varun Aaron at the airport.(HT Photo)
Robin Uthappa and Varun Aaron at the airport.(HT Photo)

IPL 2020: What’s happening inside T20 cricket’s confinement zone

IPL 2020: After the claustrophobia of lockdown, it is week long isolation in the UAE as players wait to train for the 53-day Indian Premier League (IPL) amid the pandemic
By Abhishek Paul | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 23, 2020 10:10 AM IST

“Uncomfortable would be an understatement. It was very, very uncomfortable.” Robin Uthappa’s annoyance is clear as he links up on a video calling app from his room in Dubai’s One&Only Mirage Resort. It’s been about 24 hours since the Rajasthan Royals player landed in the UAE though Uthappa’s irritation, after an ordeal of having to sit through two flights in a PPE suit to comply with SOPs for Covid before landing for the Indian Premier League (IPL), lingers.

“You have to wear the PPE suit, and then put on a mask and a visor which fogs up if you talk. So, literally you can’t do anything in it. I survived the first flight from Bengaluru to Mumbai only because I sleep like a baby in flights. I love sweating but not in anything that aren’t my training clothes. I think it gives you a truer understanding of what the doctors and medical personnel have been going through for the last few months. I appreciate them even more now,” he says.

IPL 2020 Full Coverage

Travel is the first of the many ‘hurdles’ Uthappa and Co. will have to clear before IPL starts on September 19. His team Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders were the first among the eight teams to land in the UAE on Thursday. There were two Covid tests for the squad members in India, another on landing in the UAE. They will again be tested twice in six days. Only if all the tests are negative will they be allowed to enter the ‘team bio-bubble’. Till then it is isolation. “For the next six days, it is total quarantine, no team-bonding,” Uthappa says.

A team official who has travelled with the team explains the isolation protocol. The members, lodged in a separate wing of the resort that is cut-off from other residents, are not allowed to meet anyone. Outside the rooms, the lawn has been cordoned off and marked with tape. The team members can move only within the demarcated space. Fast bowler Varun Aaron’s room is adjacent to Uthappa’s, but one can’t train outside if the other is in his marked area. No catching up outside their rooms either for a chat. It will have to be the same app Uthappa uses to speak to this correspondent in India.

Shreyas Gopal. (HT Photo)
Shreyas Gopal. (HT Photo)

When housekeeping staff enter the room—they have been told to keep contact to the minimum—players must go off to the lawn. Using the common dining area is a strict no. A menu card is placed outside the players’ rooms and they have to mark their choices and mention when they want it delivered. The room service staff too won’t interact with the players. They will place the food outside, knock, and leave. It is the same with laundry service.

If a player still tests positive, he will be isolated and contract tracing will begin immediately. BCCI has a list of accredited hospitals that will handle such cases. 

“Additionally, we’ve set up a Covid-19 taskforce that will act as a response team for all queries and for any action to be taken during the tournament. This team is led by Anuja Dalvi, who has international experience in cricket and other sports, supported by team physio John Gloster and team doctor Rob Young,” RR COO Jake Lush McCrum says.

Also read: PCB gearing up to host Zimbabwe and also start domestic season in bio-secure bubble

With no interaction with the outside world, mental well-being is a challenge, especially when living in a confined space, travelling only at a stipulated time and with the same group for almost three months. “An Indian chef has been assigned to us. We’ve decided the menu keeping in mind everyone’s taste. Food is an important part of well-being. There has been a large investment in the rooms (choice of the resort) and living in such an enclosed space, the environment becomes crucial for mental space,” Gloster says.

“For the last three-four months, we’ve given the players access to external platforms to address any mental health issues or sports psychology situations. That’s a critical part while returning to cricket after a long gap.” Once the quarantine period ends, the Royals, like the other teams, will be given a specific time to train, most likely at the ICC Cricket Academy which is half-an-hour’s drive from the resort. “We have been given a training chart of the things we have to do inside the rooms in the quarantine period,” Uthappa says. 

It includes stretching, resistance-band training, balance training, and exercises like plank, push-ups and yoga. With around four weeks to go for IPL, the RR trainers will gradually increase the load on the players starting with strength and conditioning and leading to full-fledged net practice and warm-up matches.

“Almost 75 % of our players are from India where no play was possible for the major part of the last six months. Apart from the overseas boys, some of whom are currently playing international cricket, we have work to do,” says Gloster, a former India team physio.

Also read: Sourav Ganguly reiterates that India will host England next year

It will not be all cricket training and no fun games, says Gloster. The resort has a football ground and volleyball and basketball court and the initial days will be devoted to bonding sessions for the members.

“There is a private beach too and I am looking forward to hit it with the boys. Once the ‘team bio-bubble’ is formed, it will be a lot easier,” Uthappa says. He admitted that a six-month break can affect a player’s rhythm.

“It’s hot and humid here like in Chennai or Kolkata at this time of the year. Exposing ourselves to the weather will be the key... The long break can affect a player’s reflexes, especially if somebody has entirely not trained. Conditioning will be the key, especially as I come from Bengaluru, where it’s cooler. For the fast bowlers it will be more challenging.

“I am looking forward to clearing the first hurdle i.e. the quarantine period. Thereafter the outdoor training will start,” he adds.

Gloster’s work is already on full swing. “We have been mapping their blood parameters for the last two years. So, physiologically we can know what is happening inside. Blood markers indicate stress, hormone imbalances internally and where we need to recover.

“Conditions here are not too dissimilar to that of India but can be slightly more severe. We could not monitor them through GPS in the last few months but we have individual load monitoring data of the players from the last few months like balls bowled and gym sessions done. So, we know the shape they are in with respect to preparation they have done at home, keeping in mind space constraint. We’ll have particular focus on fast bowlers. As we start training, we are not unfamiliar with them physically.”

Also read: Irfan Pathan selects team ‘Farewell XI’ comprising legends to take on Virat Kohli’s India

RR are the first IPL team to introduce GPS technology in training in 2018. “We are aware of their physical tolerances and parameters in match situations and in strenous environments. That will become our base data. We have four weeks to attain that,” Gloster said. With lot of catching up to do, focusing on the positives is the best way to beat stress, says Uthappa.

“At the airport, very few people were buying from the shops. Almost zero customers. Even in the hospitality industry in Bengaluru, the Covid lock down has left a big impact. I feel for them. Looking at them, I feel blessed I can earn my living through my passion that is cricket. I guess the opportunity we have got to get out of the country and play IPL should be motivation enough for everyone. I don’t see living like this in an enclosed space a challenge; it’s a lot better than what many people are going through.”

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