Cricket coach and mind guru Paddy Upton calls a spade a spade. The experienced campaigner, who was part of the victorious Indian cricket team in World Cup 2011 as Strength and Conditioning coach followed by stints in the Indian Premier League, believes the T20 magnum opus inside a bio-bubble in the United Arab Emirates could pose a threat to mental health.
The concern in the cricketing world emerged from the surprise pullouts ahead of the IPL 2020 edition, especially when Chennai Super Kings star Suresh Raina decided to return to India from the bio-bubble. Harbhajan Singh made himself unavailable and Kane Williamson expressed “apprehension” before flying in.
“There will be players who will find themselves emotionally and physically depressed. We are going to see depression, to some degree or the other. We are going to see real fear and anxiety among some players and I hope the franchise and the coaching staff is aware that these things will happen and there is an avenue to come out of it. It is important for their system to able to support people and give them that inter-personal connection to manage players who are going to struggle.
“Most of the players have friends in the UAE but they will not be able to see them. It will be a very lonely and isolated period,” Upton said on Sportstar Extras IPL special show.
The South African, who has been part of Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, understands the anxiety the players had before landing in the UAE amid the COVID-19 pandemic but he advises against overthinking.
“If you tell me I have to go to UAE and isolate for three months in a bio-bubble after isolating at home. And then, be there for three months in the same hotel with your team-mates, I am quite happy I am not going to the IPL this time around.
“I completely understand the anxieties of the players flying in, but if they have the anxiety now, it is only going to escalate. I hope their team-mates and coaching staff have got their eyes wide open for the unexpected things. I am sure they are looking after their players psychologically. Teams who look at players only for results and performance on the field, if they are not caring for the human, that’s going to be difficult,” he said.
Test for leaders
Having coached in the IPL, Pakistan Super League and the Australian Big Bash League, Upton understands the high-pressure environment of T20 cricket. He can look into the mind of a player. “[In IPL 2020], the introverts will be much happier because they don’t really need to be there out in the world. Extroverts will be struggling as they need that extra simulation,” said Upton, who had handled a bigger crisis with Rahul Dravid when three Royals cricketers were arrested in the middle of the IPL in 2013 for spot-fixing.
“It was a tumultuous time. When the team is going through such crisis, you should have honest human-to-human conversation. What you experiencing and what you are going through. You need to build the platform for collective understanding because we all want to do well. The only way forward to go through unprecedented times is human to human communication and support.
“The teams aren’t really a family, you need to work really hard to get that understanding. In difficult times, captains are really tested. When the team is doing well, it is easy to coach and lead. Rahul Dravid and I went through a situation,” recalled Upton.
Ahead of the opener between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, his message is clear: “As we go through the bio-bubble of three months, it is going to create brand new experiences. I want to share the difficulties and have each others’ support to navigate through.”
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