It is 5:30am. The birds are chirping more than usual, and the air, in a city whose population now exceeds ten million, is markedly fresher than it was until recently. In the heart of Chennai, R Ashwin, who has just woken up, is keen to enjoy the dawning day. Along with his younger daughter, an early riser like him, he heads up to the terrace.
Their terrace doubles as a home fitness centre and an organic garden. While his daughter listens to music, Ashwin gets to work on the cycling machine and weights. By the time they are done, his wife and older daughter are up. With his parents also living in the same house, loneliness is unlikely to afflict Ashwin. Life in confinement has been, in his own words, "idyllic".
Not everyone is coping in lockdown with that sort of level-headedness. Nor do most cricketers have the resources to maintain the kind of fitness their job demands.
In Pakistan, strength and conditioning coach Yasir Malik speaks about the challenges of keeping on top of players' online fitness tests. "We needed a system that not only gauged their fitness levels," Malik says, "but took into account the limited resources of the players, something that's a problem for many of our players. That means limitations in terms of access to quality gym equipment, good training facilities and even the diet they need to follow. Above all, we need to ascertain whatever system we bring in ensures they maintain the professionalism that would be necessary in ordinary fitness tests."
In England, confirmation of a start date for the resumption of cricket cannot come soon enough. "Ideally we would want anywhere between four to six weeks' training, but it depends a bit on the format we go into," explains Rob Ahmun, the ECB's strength and conditioning lead. "In Test cricket, if we're looking at the bowlers, for example, it will take anywhere between six to eight weeks to build up enough volume in their bowling loads before they're appropriately prepped to go and play. They can't go from nothing to bowling 40 overs in a two-week period - that's going to be a recipe for disaster.
"If you don't have that end goal, then you feel like the training is a bit aimless, a bit pointless. You don't know how to time that intensity as well" James Anderson
"At the same time, T20 poses a challenge because the intensity is so much higher: we know from our GPS data that players sprint more frequently [in T20], that the distances of their sprints are longer, and the time between their sprints is a lot less. You can't have a two-week build-up period between sprinting once or twice a week to playing in a T20I - the jump is too high."
Players who were hoping to return from injury face setbacks. In England's case, Rory Burns and Jofra Archer were looking to play early-season County Championship fixtures to ease themselves back towards fitness. Instead, they have both been left frustrated.
"We need Jofra to be back bowling again, so as soon as we get the nod, we can start building up his bowling loads," Ahmun says. "For Rory with his ankle, we need to progress his running to get up towards match intensity. It's definitely posed a challenge - when we set rehab schedules and timetables, we factor in a building period of playing second-team cricket and being gradually exposed to the demands of international cricket, so that we know when they come back, they're ready not just to play but to perform. There's a big difference between the two."
Equipment has been a problem for some cricketers. At one extreme, Andre Russell has been able to use the nets and bowling machine in his back garden to keep in shape, regularly posting Instragam videos of his training sessions with close friend Jermaine Blackwood. At the other, England batsman Keaton Jennings - often used as a medium-pace option in county cricket - found himself unable to follow the bowling drills given to him: he has no cricket or tennis balls in his apartment in Manchester. "I've scoured the house and I don't have any tennis balls, only golf balls," Jennings told the Lancashire Hot Pod. "I'll have to get a potato out or something."
These constraints are magnified depending on lockdown restrictions, which vary significantly in different parts of the world. In the UK, for example, an hour of outdoor exercise a day had been permitted, allowing for runs outdoors; this has since been relaxed to unlimited exercise. But in India, the public were ordered to stay at home without exception. In Pakistan, parks and recreational centres across the country have been closed. While that is no major concern for players with home gyms or outdoor space, it is difficult for those stuck in small apartments.
The PCB's online fitness tests
Pakistan players undergo fitness tests on video with strength and conditioning coach Yasir Malik
"The physical constraints that the Indian players are now having seems to be a lot greater than that of the guys in say, South Africa, Australia or the UK, because space is an incredible constraint here," Rajasthan Royals physio John Gloster told ESPNcricinfo in March. "I've seen some fantastic footage coming out of the players in the UK where they're in their own gyms and they've got lots of space, and I think the Indian boys are going to be perhaps at a physical disadvantage there."
In England, most counties managed to split equipment from their gyms to their squad before the lockdown was imposed, but with the vast majority of players now on furlough, their contact with their clubs has been limited. Instead, the onus is on the individual knowing that they will be expected to be in shape when they arrive for the first day of training, whenever that may be: at Leicestershire, for example, players have been told that the start-of-season fitness tests will take place on their first day back.
For centrally contracted players, resuming training will typically involve a day or two at the National Performance Centre at Loughborough, but that will be difficult to achieve while adhering to social-distancing guidelines. Instead, it is hoped that one-on-one sessions at county grounds might be possible before the end of May.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the PCB wants to ensure centrally contracted players are able to have their fitness monitored over the lockdown. Players are being tested via video chat services and scheduled phone calls.
"We observe six players at any one time," Malik said to the PCB website. Players are told what the technique of the push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises needs to be; they meet international standards. We carry out a number of other tests - chin-ups, standing broad jumps, burpees, Bulgarian squats, reverse planks and the rest. For the yo-yo test, if someone can get to a park, well and good. If that is not an option, then they can use the street in front of their house. If that's not convenient, they can use their roof. The monitoring equipment we have will take into account all these factors. The ultimate target is to make someone run."
The home-remedy feel to these stopgap solutions sits somewhat awkwardly with the high-performance culture of modern cricket. When the PCB conducted fitness tests on April 18, Sohaib Maqsood's had to be interrupted when the glass top of a table shattered and pierced his knee. While it is unclear what precipitated the accident, it isn't surprising that it happened to Maqsood rather than Russell or Ashwin.
"They can't go from nothing to bowling 40 overs in a two-week period - that's going to be a recipe for disaster" Rob Ahmun, England strength and conditioning lead
Even within the Pakistan side, there will be enormous variation in the inconvenience players face. A few weeks ago, Babar Azam posted a video of him working out in a room that appeared to have been designated specifically as his workout space. It is hard to imagine, say, Naseem Shah, having similar access to equipment and physical space at this nascent stage of his career.
Physiotherapist Andrew Leipus, who worked with the Indian national side, as well as a number of T20 franchises, made the point in starker terms. "I saw a picture on Facebook of Chris Lynn training in his garage, and he looks sensational," he says. "He's training very, very hard, but there are guys in smaller towns in Pakistan, and they won't have anywhere near those facilities. This is happening all around the cricketing world, make no mistake. The guys who have access to high-quality sports science, sports medicine and support staff are probably going to be better off than those who don't."
Despite the limitations, Leipus points out, "the ability to communicate has never been better, with WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom calls. It's not ideal. But everybody's in the same position at the moment. The main concern is that guys don't drift and become Netflix couch potatoes. They've got to maintain a certain level of fitness. It doesn't have to be specific to cricket. Athletes train very hard to achieve a certain level of fitness in strength, flexibility, aerobic endurance, all those parameters. You take the stimulus away and the body, being a very, very lazy machine, will drop off to the next level of stimulus, which is nothing."
Players fail fitness tests even when access to facilities isn't a problem. Stress injuries, which strength and conditioning coaches spend their careers trying to reduce, continue to happen, often because a player may not have hit the fitness goals their coaches expect of them. Not all cricketers are similarly wired; some need a coach constantly in their ear, and it is easy to imagine those players emerging from lockdown significantly less primed for elite competition.
"The research tells us if you can do one or two high-intensity training sessions a week - and that could be anything from shuttle runs down your driveway or a stationary bike - you are doing well," says Leipus. "If they've got a pool, they could do sprints in the water. You can do body-weight exercises like squats or lunges, and do lots of reps.
"That's only half the battle, though. The other half is when they do come back, they should ramp up their training gradually. They mustn't overdo it. That spike in stress or load to the body will put you at very high risk of getting injuries. Those that don't have the more contemporary sports-science controls and advice, or access to guys who can help programme their return workloads, you're going to see a spike in soft-tissue injuries. Hamstrings, shoulders, calves, and lower back problems."
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"If you don't have that end goal, then you feel like the training is a bit aimless, a bit pointless," Anderson replied. "You don't know how to time that intensity, as well."
"I just bought off Amazon a little net - not a cricket net, just a little net to put by the hedge, but I don't know whether to keep bowling a little bit," Broad continued.
"At 21 or 22, if we went eight weeks without bowling, it probably wouldn't be an issue. But I just feel at my age, our age, if I go six or seven weeks without getting the load through the bones in the body, I just don't know how I'll react when I want to get bowling again... I'm trying to tick over as much as I can, so that if we get a nod this summer to bowl and train together as a group, I don't feel way behind. Although whatever anyone does, we know that it's going to take a few weeks to get anywhere near match fitness, because bowling is such a unique thing."
The absence of a clear start date has been a common challenge. After the IPL's initial postponement by a month, players were unsure how likely the tournament was to go ahead, yet they felt that had to train towards that date. Even as it became clear that it would be pushed back further, players felt the need to state publicly that they were training for a mid-April start - though they privately admitted that was not the case.
"Goal-setting is critical in sports psychology," says Leipus. "And if you don't know what that end goal is, it's very hard to set those small goals on the way to a big goal.
"The main concern is that guys don't drift and become Netflix couch potatoes. They've got to maintain a certain level of fitness. It doesn't have to be specific to cricket" Andrew Leipus, physiotherapist
"I do think it's worth saying these guys earn millions of dollars so I would just tell them to suck it up. That's their job; they have to do their training every day, and they have to listen to their sports staff. They can set smaller goals. There's an opportunity to work on weaknesses. Say one guy's got a weakness with regards to shoulder strength. The fitness trainer can say, 'We're going to test you in four weeks, and get you up to the requisite parameters.'"
There is one positive aspect to the lockdown: rest. The most recent edition of the Cricket Monthly's global workload survey found that Joe Root had played 81 days of international cricket between October 2018 and September 2019; several others spent well over two months on the field for their countries. Including domestic cricket, Marnus Labuschagne spent 129 days on the pitch out of 365, and plenty of the balance training or travelling. Only three weeks into the lockdown, Virat Kohli said to Kevin Pietersen on their Instagram Live chat that he had never spent so long in the same place as his wife Anushka Sharma.
"If you look at some of the England guys," say Ahmun, "they would have got back from Sri Lanka [the tour was postponed mid-way in March] and then gone straight out to the IPL, and if they weren't in the Test team, they'd have been in the PSL after the white-ball series in South Africa [in February]. For some of them, this is probably the biggest break that they've had for a number of years. We will get some benefits from that, from the mental perspective, of not having to get up and play at the highest level every morning, and spending time with families instead. Any kind of break that they get is a bit of a blessing in disguise."
Players have used the break to find ways to lighten the mood of their training. Ben Stokes and Paul Collingwood - England's assistant coach - spent the early weeks of lockdown filming their attempts to beat each other in the "Bring Sally Up" challenge, which involves slow press-ups in time with the lyrics of the Moby song "Flower". Collingwood took an early lead, but Stokes had soon managed to get through the full three and a half minutes.
Mayank Agarwal's partner Aashita has accompanied him in home workouts, while Jos Buttler's wife Louise had half of his England team-mates joining her pilates classes on Instagram in the early weeks of the lockdown. Scotland keeper-batsman Matthew Cross' golf trick shots and Somerset legspinner Max Waller's teabag challenges might be less relevant to their fitness regimes, but have continued to keep their hand-eye coordination active.
The flip side of this break, though, is that when cricket does return, the calendar will be busier than ever. New Zealand, for example, faced a jammed summer schedule even before Covid-19, with five Tests, nine ODIs and 18 T20Is, plus the T20 World Cup, between October 2020 and March 2021. Throw in the possibility of a delayed tour of Europe and the Caribbean immediately after, and there will not be a moment's rest.
This further raises the risk of fatigue injuries. "When everything opens up, everyone will want to train every day," Leipus worries. "And the body's just not going to be able to recover in time to adapt to those new loads because it doesn't have the fitness."
With different countries currently at varying stages of the pandemic, the only guarantee is that uncertainty is here for the foreseeable future. While in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes the peak of the pandemic has passed, the numbers have been rising in India, which remains in cautious lockdown.
The deep-rooted inequalities in world cricket are only likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic, but it remains important not to lose sight of a bigger picture that is as grim as it is unpredictable. Ashwin may have a lot more use for his terrace and Russell his bowling machine, while Jennings continues to scramble for cricket balls, and cricketers in Pakistan look for empty side-streets and abandoned rooftops they can use.