Before the IPL, players are finally feeling bio-bubble fatigue

The IPL begins on April 9; the tournament will be staged, without spectators, in six bio-secure bubbles even as India is in the grip of an intense second wave of the pandemic.
CSK's Josh Hazlewood (L), SRH's Mitchell Marsh (R)(HT Collage)
CSK's Josh Hazlewood (L), SRH's Mitchell Marsh (R)(HT Collage)
Updated on Apr 01, 2021 05:56 PM IST
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By Rasesh Mandani, Mumbai

Finally, the bubble life is beginning to take its toll as international players have started to drop out of the IPL citing bubble fatigue. Fast bowler Mark Wood, who has spent many weeks, on and off, in bio-bubbles with the English team since July last year, was the first to withdraw, hours before the auction in February. Then, a couple of weeks back, Australian wicket-keeper batsman Joshua Philippe informed his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore that he was not coming. Now, two more Australian cricketers, Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood, have made themselves unavailable, hours before their flight to India.

The IPL begins on April 9; the tournament will be staged, without spectators, in six bio-secure bubbles even as India is in the grip of an intense second wave of the pandemic.

All the players who have opted out have spoken of the challenge of playing while under the constant restrictions of quarantines and bio-bubbles, often away from their families for long stretches at a time. The IPL requires all stakeholders to undergo a week of hard quarantine before entering the bubble.

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"It's been a long 10 months in bubbles and quarantine at different times, so I decided to have a rest from cricket and spend some time at home and in Australia in the next two months," Chennai Super Kings’ seamer Hazlewood told on Thursday. "That's the decision I've made and it sits pretty well with me."

The Australian internationals have been living the bubble life since July last year, competing in England, then the UAE IPL, followed by the international bubble at home against India. Hazlewood said he has prioritized international cricket, with this being a T20 World Cup and an Ashes year. He could now be seen playing at the back end of the domestic season for New South Wales.

On Wednesday, Sunrisers Hyderabad declared that all-rounder Marsh had “opted out due to personal reasons”. Marsh had to pull out of the last IPL in SRH’s season opener itself due to an ankle injury. After recovery, he played in the Big Bash league as well as the T20I’s against New Zealand. Philippe, who is a white ball specialist, competed in the same competitions post-IPL as Marsh.

Although the franchises have been left to look for last minute replacements, they have been publicly supportive of the players’ decisions. “The RCB management is disappointed to lose a player of Josh's caliber for this IPL season, but at the same time we fully understand, respect and support his decision of excluding himself from the tournament," the franchise said in a statement.

RCB found a like-for-like replacement for Philippe in New Zealand’s Finn Allen. SRH have replaced Marsh with England’s prolific opener Jason Roy, although their top order resources are many with Jonny Bairstow, David Warner and Kane Williamson in the squad.

With the IPL being the most lucrative tournament in cricket, the predicament before the players is real.

“It's life-changing money which is why it was such a difficult decision for me,” Wood said. One of the fastest bowlers in the world right now--he regularly bowls at 150kph--Wood is a much sought-after player. “I didn't want to go into the auction and then let a team down at a later date, I didn't think that was fair," he said.

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As many as 12 of Wood’s English teammates are competing in the IPL this year. England Cricket Board’s acceptance of IPL as a part of the cricket calendar is as much about the quality of the league as it is about the money on offer.

"We don't particularly want to go toe-to-toe with our players over IPL participation in the long run because we may face losing some of our best players," Ashley Giles, ECB director of cricket said in a BBC talk show. “I don't want that to be a kiss of death. I think we have to understand that it could be a danger in the future.”

England’s rotation policy for their all-format players, which came in for criticism for not fielding their best Test team against India, was devised with the seven-week long IPL in mind.

No Indian player has withdrawn from IPL 14, but captain Virat Kohli also spoke about the workload and bubble fatigue recently.

“Scheduling needs to be looked at in the future, because playing in 'bubbles' for so long, is going to be very, very difficult going forward,” he said after the conclusion of the two-month-long home series against England. “You can't expect everyone to be at the same level of mental strength. Sometimes you do get cooked.”

Indian players have been competing in bubbles starting with the UAE IPL last September. Since then, there was a long tour to Australia and a lengthy home series against England. There is non-stop cricket ahead too, with the WTC final following the IPL, a five-Test series in England, and more home matches before the T20 World Cup this October.

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While BCCI officials say the players are permitted to opt-out, unlike England there is no planned rotation policy in place.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021