England arrive in South Africa on Tuesday to start their winter of bio-bubble touring with an eye on building towards next year’s Twenty20 World Cup.
England will play three T20s and three ODIs against South Africa spending all their time in one hotel in Cape Town and splitting the matches between Newlands (four games) and Paarl (two).
They will be locked away in the Vineyard hotel with the South African side for almost a month, returning home on Dec 10.
It is the first time that England will have experienced bio-bubble measures on the road having hosted four teams at home last summer.
Jos Buttler, the vice-captain, admitted on Monday that it was tough mentally last summer for the players to live in hotels at cricket grounds away from family and friends. The Vineyard hotel is a short walk from Newlands but at least the change of scenery from staying at cricket grounds should help. England are due to go to Sri Lanka and India after Christmas to start 2021, which is looking like it will be their busiest ever year, and Buttler is urging his team-mates to be open about any mental health issues if they feel the strain of claustrophobic bio-bubbles combined with the pressure to perform.
“We’ve got quite used to it. We won’t get to fully enjoy South Africa as we usually would but I think everyone has become accustomed to what it’s going to be like,” said Buttler.
“If you’re feeling under pressure or not quite feeling yourself the key is to have the confidence to open up and talk about it. We all go through it at different stages where you feel a bit homesick or claustrophobic when you can’t get out and about like you’d usually like to so we just want to make sure everyone is aware of that and one thing the ECB is excellent at is looking after the players’ mental well-being.
“It’s just the restrictions on your freedom. I certainly found it was tougher to escape the game staying at hotels on the grounds in England. They were high-pressured matches and when you’ve put a lot into the game it’s nice to get away and relax. Looking out the window and still being on the ground makes it tougher to have your differentials between the game and your relax and recovery time.”
Buttler found it easier at the IPL recently where his wife and daughter joined him. Families will not be touring with England this winter and England will have to manage workloads which is why Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran will leave South Africa after the three T20s. Buttler is in both squads but as a multi-format player, has been promised rests at other times over the course of the winter.
England were in South Africa just a few months ago and won a tight T20 series 2-1 and focus is now firmly on the World Cup in Twenty20-over cricket in India next year. Last weekend should have seen the final of the 2020 World T20 in Melbourne but that tournament has been pushed back to 2022 because of Covid. Now England have to find clarity over their XI for the tournament in India next year, just like they did in 50-over cricket in the lead-up to last year’s World Cup.
“To go and win the series is the ultimate aim. We’re building towards a World Cup and what we did well in 50-over cricket was win and learn at the same time, building towards a tournament. Of course winning gives you confidence,” said Buttler.
“You want to nail down your 11 and squad of 15 building towards that World Cup. One thing we had in 50-over cricket was that the team almost picked itself towards the end of that cycle and that’s a great place to be. You get a lot of confidence from guys playing with each other and then going into the tournament and high-pressure situations you are very familiar with your own role and what you expect of your team-mates.”
England will play three intra-squad warm up matches starting on Friday before the first T20 on Nov 27.