From the 2021 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Jack Leach on life in the bubble.
I entered England’s biosecure bubble at the Rose Bowl on June 23, a fortnight before the First Test against West Indies, and left on August 25, the last evening of the Third against Pakistan. Take off the four days we were allowed home between series, and I spent 60 nights in the Test team’s version of lockdown. I didn’t play a game. I won’t pretend I found it easy.
That said, we were looked after brilliantly in Southampton and at Old Trafford. So much was done to make us feel comfortable, and we were well aware that millions around the country had it tougher than we did. But spending so long confined to barracks was difficult, especially for a Test reserve. When you’re on tour, you can go out for meals, or explore the area. Last summer, I was always a couple of hours from home – but, with that one exception, could never visit. Life as an international cricketer often feels as if it’s in a bubble. This was ten times as intense: you’re looking out from your hotel room on to the ground, and there’s nowhere to go.
That didn’t mean I enjoyed my team-mates’ success any less: it was inspiring to watch Stuart Broad’s 500th Test wicket, closely followed by Jimmy Anderson’s 600th. And Zak Crawley’s double-hundred was awesome. Those moments lifted everyone’s spirits.
The ECB made it clear we could leave at any moment if we were struggling. County cricket was also going on, but I didn’t want to lose my place in England’s pecking order. After a difficult winter with my health, the spinner’s role had gone to my Somerset team-mate Dom Bess, but I told myself a lot could change in six Tests, and I was hopeful they’d pick two spinners against Pakistan in Manchester. They didn’t, which I found tough. I was also Bessy’s concussion replacement, so had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. It was a strange limbo: I couldn’t fully relax, but I also knew my bowling would mainly be in the nets.
Most of us quickly got used to our new way of life: sitting alone at dinner, staring at the back of a team-mate’s head; no more than four to a lift, all standing in a corner; a TV room where we could gather, socially distanced, to watch football. I got through a lot of old episodes of The Office. Others preferred Xbox gaming, and there was a card school. Chris Woakes developed a reputation as a master barista. We could hang out with each other on our hotel balconies, which helped me get closer to a few of the guys – Zak, Mark Wood, James Bracey and some of the backroom staff. That was an unexpected bonus, and a reminder of why we play the game.
My situation could have been complicated because I suffer from Crohn’s disease, and take medication that weakens my immune system. At the start of lockdown, I got a text from the government saying I was high-risk, which knocked me back – and almost made me feel more ill than I was. But I was confident my fitness levels reduced those risks too. Once I’d got my head round that, I found it easier to deal with. The closest I came to breaching protocols was when I was on twelfth man duty – which I was a lot – and forgot to wear gloves as I ran out with the drinks. I’ll never make it as a waiter…
I was also determined to make the most of the situation, and worked hard on my game. I’ve always used setbacks as motivation, and I wanted to make sure I emerged a better bowler, with a stronger action. As a cricketer, you often feel as if you’re on a conveyor belt, with little free time to improve your skills. I think I did that, so my time in lockdown didn’t feel like a waste, and I really enjoyed bowling for Somerset in the final of the Bob Willis Trophy. I can’t say I missed the bubble.
Jack Leach was talking to Lawrence Booth.
This piece was first published in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2021.