‘Bio-bubble’ has become a buzzword that is often used when talking about sport during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the summer, under growing economic pressure, the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) decided to go ahead with the series against West Indies but under strict bio-bubble restrictions.
Since its initial success, the bio-bubble has been used as a solution to continue the cricketing calendar under difficult circumstances in high-profile tournaments like the Indian Premier League.
Naturally, players started to feel the mental challenges of being confined to their hotel rooms away from close friends and family. After all, they are only human. This ‘bubble fatigue’ has already led England cricketers Tom Curran and Tom Banton to withdraw from the ongoing Big Bash League in Australia.
Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq told YouTube channel Cricket Baaz that he fears for the mental health of cricketers if the bubble life carries on: “Staying indoors all the time, movement being restricted and not being able to go out with freedom does take a toll on the players and even officials.”
Previously, England captain Eoin Morgan and West Indies captain Jason Holder expressed their reservations on spending excess time in a bio-bubble, suggesting that it can cause extreme burnout.
Both these players have spent a lot of time in various bubble, with their national sides as well as their franchises, so their concerns must be taken seriously.
This perhaps raises questions over why the long tour between Australia and India has gone ahead in the first place. Are these boards putting their economic welfare before player welfare?
Considering how players have been struggling in the bio-bubble, a later start to the series could have been discussed, to combat the emerging phenomenon of ‘bubble fatigue’.
Australia v India: Tests in the Bio-Bubble
Whenever a cricketer, past or present, is asked about the most difficult format of the game, almost instantly the words “Test cricket” are echoed back.
Playing a Test match in itself is exhausting, not only physically but also mentally. A Test cricketer has to be on top of their game for five days, always analysing and trying to outshine their opponents.
Add to it the mental pressures of the bio-bubble, and the upcoming series between Australia and India has become even more of a ‘Test’ for the players.
Those players who played in the IPL haven’t seen their families since the start of September. The last test match between the two is scheduled to end on 19th January, which would be over four months in a bubble, away from their families and the rest of the world.
Hence, the current COVID-19 situation brings additional challenges to an already difficult proposition for both teams. Players will have to be on top of their games, not only on the cricket field, but also in their bubbles, if they want to win this series.
During India’s 2018/19 tour of Australia, Indian batter Cheteshwar Pujara tormented the Australian bowling line-up, to a point that there is a running joke within the cricketing fraternity that he is still batting from that series.
Of course, doubters still say that it was a relatively easy series win for India since Australia were without their two top batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner.
This time though, the roles seemed to have reversed with the return of Smith (though Warner will miss at least the first Test), while India are already without their most experienced fast bowler in Ishant Sharma, who has been ruled out due to injury.
Soon, they will be without their best batter and captain, Virat Kohli, who will be on paternity leave after the First test.
It is first versus second in the ICC World Test Championship table, but the real test will be who can handle the challenges of the bio-bubble better, and that team will more than likely come out on top.