After spending weeks in a bio-bubble in England, West Indies all-rounder Roston Chase finds himself in a similar setup in a different part of the world, this time back home for the eighth season of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).
It is a reality that cricketers, as well as athletes from other disciplines, are slowly getting used to — getting tested frequently before and during the course of a tournament, being isolated from the rest of the world in the bio-secure environment along with a host of other changes brought to the playing conditions by the ICC, including a ban on applying saliva on the ball.
The experiences however, can vary from one setup to another, with Chase describing the setup in England as one that was far more relaxed than the one he currently finds himself in in Trinidad and Tobago — where all the matches of the 2020 edition will be taking place.
"Yes, the bubble here is very much different to the one in England. I thought the one in England was a lot more relaxed after the initial stages, after you got your first COVID test and your results came back negative. It was way more relaxed, and in terms of getting food, you could order food from outside, whereas here you can’t get anything from outside the hotel.
"‘Cause it’s hard if you just go downstairs and there’s something there that you don’t want, and there’s really not much of a choice for you to decide what you want to eat," said Chase, who represents the Daren Sammy-led St Lucia Zouks in Cricket West Indies' showpiece T20 event.
"And there were a lot more activities in England that you could do as a team, whereas here there’s not really much to do but I guess stay in your room or chat with your friends because there are strict rules that (one) can’t really be in another guy’s room and so on. So yeah I think it was way easier to cope with it in England," added the bowling all-rounder.
— Windies Cricket (@windiescricket) July 28, 2020
England hosted the West Indies in a three-Test series starting 8 July that marked the return of international cricket for the first time since March, with the COVID-19 pandemic — that is still raging in many parts of the world — putting the sport in a limbo for three months. West Indies won the opening Test by six wickets, but could not capitalise on the series lead as the hosts bounced back to take the series 2-1.
The players were not allowed to leave the bio-secure environments at Southampton and Manchester during the course of the tour, with England pacer Jofra Archer having been fined and reprimanded by the ECB for paying an unauthorised visit to his house between the first and second Tests.
Chase, who was named the West Indies player of the series by England coach Chris Silverwood for his all-round heroics in the Tests, has brought his rich vein of form over to the shortest form of the game with two half-centuries and a three-wicket haul in the six matches that the Zouks have played so far in this year's tournament, which commenced on 18 August.
The Zouks, which finished fifth out of six teams in last year's edition, currently finds itself at the second spot on the points table after winning four of their first six matches in what has been a real promising start for the franchise. The side had been purchased by the owners of the Indian Premier League's Kings XI Punjab franchise earlier this year, making it the second team in the Caribbean league to be owned by an IPL franchise after the Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR).
"I am hoping that we could do much better this year... I think it’s more or less the way we’ve gone out and play and executed our plans. There is going to be a chance for the guys on the bench to put in some performances because it is a very sharp tournament," said Chase when asked about the team's chances of going higher than their best-ever result of a third place finish in the league.
While playing in front of empty stands is something that Chase would've been used to by now after playing three Tests inside the bio-bubbles in England, the home vs away factor isn't always as pronounced in a bilateral Test series as it would be in a T20 event, in which every side plays as many home games in the group stage as away, with the advantage of playing in their own conditions with the support of their fans often a factor in the team's performances.
Do the Zouks miss the vociferous fans that would throng the Daren Sammy Stadium in the past editions? Does the format for the 2020 edition in which all the games are being played behind closed doors in Trinidad level the playing field for all six participating teams?
"Yeah I think it takes away the home advantage a bit in terms of the crowd. Not having a crowd, I think that makes a big difference, ‘cause there’s no one in the stands to really get behind or cheer you on.
"So it’s just both teams in the middle and your teammates on the bench just supporting you. So yeah, I think that levels it a bit. But it’s still in Trinidad as we know, but most of the guys here will be accustomed to playing cricket in Trinidad," said the 28-year-old Barbadian.
Like most other athletes, Chase does miss the buzz that the spectators bring to sporting venues, which the organisers try to make up for with fake crowd noise though it doesn't quite fill the void entirely. The offie however, is happy to be playing cricket for now and making the most of whatever opportunities come his way.
"I don’t really be focusing on the crowd. But it’s still good to hear the buzz in the background and the fans cheering and chirping on. But that itself for me is not really a big issue. I’m just happy to play cricket."
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