The Indian Premier League was just round the corner when the lockdown hit: cricket’s centre stage, where the world’s finest compete against some of the best Indian players, and beside them. The IPL gives so many raw, domestic players an almost international platform. It’s a cocktail like none other.

To accommodate the extravaganza, the domestic cricket season is always set accordingly, and it was already done and dusted when the lockdown began. Barring the few uncapped and/or age-group level players who were to feature in the IPL, most domestic players had already hit their off-season routines.

Off-season is a crucial time for a cricketer, more so for young upcoming players. The high density of matches played during the season doesn’t leave them much time to hone specific skills, and the off-season provides this window, as well as the chance to test their skills in match-ups, as an array of local club tournaments are organised countrywide. It improves your chances of a better performance next season.

We interviewed some upcoming players who represent their states in the age-group level national tournaments organised each year by the BCCI, to find out how they’ve been dealing with the lockdown.

Nikhil Kumar, 21, is a pacer who has played for the Delhi & District Cricket Association under–19 and under–23 teams:

“At first I was almost glad, because I thought finally I can get my much needed rest now. Being a fast-bowler, you don't get much rest. But soon, maybe around March 26? this realisation hit me that this lockdown will stay with us for some time, and I need to do something in the meantime. So I began meditating regularly and focused on my mental and physical fitness.”

Has he found an alternative to field training? “No, nothing can replace field training and practice but we know the situation and have to act accordingly. So I decided to eat a well-planned and regulated diet. I even cut-down my food intake because I wasn’t burning carbs like before.”

Kumar’s plan is to enjoy the game to its fullest when the game restarts. “I don’t have any particular plans. I’m going to just play for a week. Play and be happy about it. Having said that, I know that recovery won’t be easy and immediate. Last year too, I had a long lay-off because of an injury, so I will proceed in a similar manner.”

Staving off injuries is also a concern for Deepanshu Thakral, 20, a keeper-batsman who’s worn the colours of the Haryana Cricket Association under–19 and under–23 teams:

“I had already started with my off-season plan when the lockdown was announced. So I had to change things. Coming into a routine, initially, wasn’t easy, but after a point of time I got used to it, and now I enjoy this time.

“My aim is to remain injury-free and I work on that. Along with regular fitness training, I also do specific training for my injury-prone body parts.”

Thakral can feel the gravity of the situation and wants to focus on the present. “No particular post-lockdown plans, as things are still very uncertain at this moment. With the increasing number of cases you can’t say in what manner unlock will be done and how safe will it be to get out there.

“I know that with a few net sessions the skill would return. The challenge for me is to keep my mind in a good space, and not lose the motivation to work hard,” Thakral tells The Citizen.

Taking his mind off the field has helped him maintain his mental well being. “There were periods when I felt a little low but then I started doing other activities, like I started learning cooking, and joined an online class, and since then things have been good, my mind is always busy.”

For Tejasvi, 18, “The timing of the lockdown was particularly a bad one for me because I had already been away from the field and the game almost for a month due to my CBSE board exams. Finally when they were about to end, everything shut down.”

Also a wicket-keeper batsman, Tejasvi recently smashed two quickfire centuries for the Delhi U-19s against the Bengal and U.P. under–19s respectively, playing for the Cooch Behar Trophy.

“The biggest challenge for me during this lockdown? To form a routine and take care of my health. Because of the exams and then because of the lockdown, my sleep cycle was all over the place. Ever since I’ve sorted that out my routine has been better. I regularly do physical training and yoga. For my batting and wicket-keeping, I do various drills with the Cosco ball in my basement.”

“Yes, I am very excited for the restart, but it is also a bit bittersweet, because I know before I can entirely focus on the game, I also have to appear for my remaining Class XII exams,” he rues.

These young players’ decisions echo the words of experts in the field.

According to Mugdha Dhamankar-Bavare, a counselling and sports psychologist who works with the Mumbai Cricket Association:

“The lockdown has created too many fluctuations in terms of mood swings in everybody’s minds. Immediately after the lockdown obviously, everybody was dejected… so all of that period is now over. The players have accepted it and moved ahead with it.”

And the sports psychologist’s major advice to these cricketers? “All of us know that skill training isn’t happening, so use the lockdown to close down on the gap which comes from the fitness level. Now is the time to work on it.

“The second thing is mental training, because during the normal routine these cricketers find it very difficult to give time to mental training. So now is a very good chance for them to work on it, because that is what actually will help them when everything is back to normal,” Dhamankar-Bavare tells The Citizen.

Cricket coach Sanjay Bhardwaj, a Dronacharya awardee, is of a similar view:

“Yes, it is difficult but we must remember that we are in a pandemic, we can’t risk our lives, and we need to take care of ourselves. But we need to work intelligently. Technology, now, can provide access to numerous static exercises for almost every muscle which you can do at your home.”

“External exercises make us perspire and keep us physically fit. But with breathing exercises you go in your own body, and that helps in increasing concentration and mental toughness,” says Bhardwaj.

His advice to locked-down players: “Players, specially right now, must take a little extra care of themselves. They need to realise what the situation is and try to make the best of whatever they have right now.”

Saurabh Nagpal is a second-year student at Hindu College, University of Delhi

Cover Photo: Nikhil Kumar in action. Credits: IG @nikhil_18_