Skipper Root wants England players to have open and honest conversations with each other if demands of bubble life are proving too tough, and says that the tour of Sri Lanka is likely to continue should the tourists’ squad suffer one or two positive COVID-19 tests on the sub-continent
England’s players will have daily access to a psychologist on their upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka to help alleviate any anxiety about touring during a pandemic, says captain Joe Root.
Dr James Bickley, consultant clinical psychologist at the Changing Minds organisation, will join head coach Chris Silverwood’s backroom team.
The England squad will fly out on Saturday evening to contest two Tests – in a series that is live on Sky Sports from January 14 – less than a month after England came under fire from Cricket South Africa for postponing their ODI series against the Proteas, citing concerns over the safety of the bio-secure bubble they were in.
Three fixtures went unfulfilled after members of staff at the hotel in which England were staying tested positive for Covid-19 but two ‘unconfirmed positive tests’ in the touring party subsequently came back negative.
Root explained that England had already passed the tipping point by that point and were ready to come home.
“It has been well-documented that it was the domino effect – as a player in that environment, it felt like there was no way out,” he reflected.
“You are in a bubble as such and there is a virus circulating there and there was no way of getting away from it once it had crossed over into our side of the hotel.
“I think the anxiety of that building up over a period of time was significant and the guys didn’t feel safe. The decision was taken out of the players’ hands and that was that.”
Root accepts, though, that cricket must in future follow the examples of other sports like football and Formula One which have carried on despite leading professionals testing positive for COVID-19.
Asked if he felt one or two positive tests in the England squad could result in the end of the tour, Root replied “I don’t think it will” and encouraged his team-mates to speak up if they had concerns.
“There will be a little bit of extra support there for the players in terms of a psychologist on the ground at all times, making sure there’s someone there to speak to,” he said.
“Everyone is very aware that if at any stage it becomes too much, they are entitled to get out – I think that’s a really important thing to remember.
“As players, you’ve got a responsibility to speak up and use not just the staff but also the other guys around you, to lean on each other and make sure that you are looking after one another.
“As captain, a big part of my role is to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in the environment and that they are in a position to be at the top of their game and feel that they can go and play Test cricket to the best of their ability.”
Root will begin 2021 with 97 Test caps and a Test average of 47.99 to his name but with overseas trips to Sri Lanka, India and Australia coming up, questions persist over his conversion rate after a year in which he scored four fifties in 13 innings without adding to his 17 Test tons.
“It was quite a frustrating summer and season last year where I didn’t quite get going,” he said, looking back on the series against South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan.
“I feel like my game is in a really good place and that something big is around the corner so it’s just about being patient, not forcing things too much and enjoying my batting and enjoying leading a side that is improving all of the time.
“The amount of cricket that this year holds is a real rarity – there’s a lot of cricket in Asia which is a great challenge to us as a team and my batting personally.
“Hopefully we’ll get to test ourselves against the three best teams in the world, at home and away. The next couple of series are going to be a really good gauge of where we are as a team.
“In terms of motivation, there’s plenty for me to go out and produce some big scores. In terms of conversion rates, it’s a mental thing – I’ve just got to make sure that I’m in the best place possible that when I get to fifty, I get greedy and a little bit selfish, and make those starts count.”