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Bio bubble is mentally draining on players, says Proteas skipper

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The Proteas won their Test series against Sri Lanka but it’s the effects of limitations on movement and restrictions on contact with outsiders that in the long term will need to be monitored.

Quinton de Kock of South Africa during the 2020 Betway Test Series day2 match against Sri Lanka at Supersport Park, Centurion. Picture: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

SOUTH Africa’s cricketers’ latest experience of playing, training and living in a bio-secure environment has been mentally draining with skipper Quinton de Kock saying that playing cricket in the midst of a pandemic is “unsettling”.

The Proteas won their Test series against Sri Lanka 2-0, but it’s the effects of limitations on movement and restrictions on contact with outsiders that in the long term will need to be monitored.

De Kock looked dejected as he outlined how, if South Africa fit in all their matches over the remainder of the season, he’ll most likely spend just two weeks at home, even though he’ll be playing the majority of those matches in South Africa.

“It’s unsettling. There’s a lot of nerves, you know, about the bubble and everything else that is going on around,” he said of playing while the country is in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virus is ravaging South Africa at the moment, and while some of the players did have their wives and children with them in the ‘bio-bubble’ set up at the Irene Country Lodge, concern about extended family and friends still existed.

“Just lots of small things, things you’re not used to in life. One day you’re living ‘normally’ and the next you’re in lockdown and then you’re stuck in a bubble,” said De Kock, a lover of fishing and the outdoors.

“The bubbles also make the tours longer because of the quarantine periods; you stay in your room for a certain amount of time. It is very unsettling, I don’t know how long it can last for. But for now, we just deal with it in the best way possible.”

South Africa will head for Pakistan on January 15 for the first time since 2007 to play two Tests and three T20 Internationals.

“I’m probably only going to be home for two weeks in the next three months, which is quite a challenge. Even though we are in South Africa, we are in a bubble which is not ideal,” De Kock added.

After the Pakistan tour, South Africa are scheduled to host Australia for three Tests, with Pakistan then due to round out the local season with three T20s and three One-Day Internationals in April.

In De Kock’s case, he has been living mostly in ‘bio bubbles’ since last September when he was in quarantine ahead of the IPL. By April, he’d have been in that kind of an environment for the best part of eight months.

“The longer you stay in these bubbles, the more mental strength the players have to have,” said Proteas head coach Mark Boucher.

“It can be challenging to be away from family, especially at this time of year. We’ll be communicating with the players to see how we can improve.”

The other challenge for the players has been the lack of atmosphere at the Test matches. Normally, the first day of the Boxing Day Test would have been sold out at SuperSport Park, but instead they were greeted by empty grass banks, while the New Year’s Test, which is usually played at Newlands was moved to the Wanderers.

The absence of supporters was almost eerie.

“It’s tough, especially at home, because you are expecting a reaction (from the crowd),” said Boucher.

“There were times (on Monday) when I felt the intensity dropped a bit and we had to have a good chat, to make sure, although there are no crowds, we had to lift ourselves up, keep our standards nice and high.

“I was very happy with how the guys responded.”

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