‘New normals’ are being established in every corner of society as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and cricket is no different.
The international game returned to unusually bare backdrops of English stadiums last summer, when the notion of social distancing in bio-bubbles was first put forward and carried out.
Nearly seven months on, these sanitary havens popping up all over the world are not only considerably less bizarre than they once sounded, but are also essential to getting any kind of play underway.
It’s no different at the T10 League in Abu Dhabi and everyone entering the bubble – players, coaches and support staff alike – had to quarantine for three days upon arrival, while undergoing PCR tests every 24 hours during that period. Each member of the T10 bubble then undergoes PCR testing every 48 hours, meaning there are going to be some sore noses by the end of the ten-day tournament.
Afghanistan and Ireland cricketers such as Mohammad Nabi and Paul Stirling were carefully transitioned from one bubble to another following their ODI series at the same Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, a manoeuvre involving a kind of Megabus musical chairs.
Despite the oddity of it all, it has the kind of unfamiliar familiarity experienced the world over through adjusting to lockdowns, face masks and seemingly endless Zoom meetings.
“It’s hard, but it’s something that you generally have to get accustomed to. You have to set your mind that you’re going to have to quarantine, it’s going to be tougher than normal and you’re going to have to come to tournaments a week earlier, sometimes two weeks earlier,” Deccan Gladiators allrounder Sunil Narine told ESPNcricinfo, fittingly on a Zoom call between games of FIFA and binging Netflix like the rest of us.
“It’s getting normal, more or less, because we’ve been living in this for a while now and any cricket you’re playing – this is going to happen now. There’s things you have to do as a professional cricketer and that’s the mindset; you have to adapt.”
One player glad to be off the sofa and away from his TV is Mohammad Amir, playing in his first franchise tournament since retiring from Pakistan duties at the end of last year.
“After Covid [happened], if you’re getting any opportunity to play cricket, it’s a blessing from God,” Amir said on another Zoom meeting with ESPNcricinfo. “Everybody is struggling in the world with Covid and I think we are blessed to be playing cricket, rather than sitting on the sofa and watching TV.
“It’s sometimes strange and you get frustrated but it will only help because you have to manage [the situation]. As a player you have to follow the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] and if you’re not meeting with your other team-mates, it’s not a big deal because we’re here to play cricket, not to meet other mates. Rather than getting frustrated or getting negative thoughts in your mind, just stick with the fact that we’re here to play cricket.”
Narine shares the same sentiment and believes that if players want to play cricket, then the sacrifices – as irritating and draining as they may be – are worth it.
“Leaving home is probably the most difficult, leaving family, loved ones home and then you’re going to have to stay in a room where you’re here to play cricket but for seven days or five days, you’re just in a room doing absolutely nothing,” he said. “There’s things you have to do and there’s things you’re going to have to accept and move forward and just live with it because it’s going to be here for a while. No-one knows when it’s going to stop so you’re just going to have to live with it and move on.”
With just two days of carefully orchestrated practice sessions possible prior to Thursday’s opening night, there was ring rust on show as defending champions Maratha Arabians shelled the first of three catches in the very first over, but they were soon back in their groove thanks to UAE international Abdul Shakoor.
Unlike Narine and Amir, life in the bubble is a new phenomenon for Shakoor and although he described the experience as a “difficult one”, the 32-year-old looked entirely unperturbed in smashing the first half-century in T10 cricket by a UAE player as his team clinched a last-ball win.
“It was very tough,” said a beaming Shakoor post-match. “On the last day we got to practice for just one hour and it’s very difficult when you are for four days in a room to come out and do a performance like this.”
For the Arabians’ Bangladesh captain Mosaddek Hossain, the result was secondary to the relief to be on the field rather than in the hotel.
“It’s boring for us but it’s the new normal life and we’re adjusting to this,” he said. “When we’re staying in the room every time we’re thinking of when we’re going out to the field or for practice. When we’re coming to play, it will be very exciting for us.”