England allrounder Sam Curran expects some players to opt out of national selection "in the near future", as the strain of life in a series of bio-secure bubbles begins to take its toll.
England will name their squads to tour South Africa for two limited-overs series next week, with players scheduled to fly out on November 16 ahead of three T20Is and three ODIs. For Curran - who will return to the UK after the Chennai Super Kings' final group game of the IPL in Abu Dhabi on Sunday - and the rest of England's IPL contingent, that means only a short break at home if they are selected for the tour.
His international team-mate Jofra Archer has spent more days in bubbles than any other England player since June, but Curran is not far behind. He left the squad ahead of the final Test of the summer against Pakistan to play for Surrey in the Bob Willis Trophy, but was one of four players from the red-ball bubble - along with Archer, Jos Buttler and Mark Wood - to be picked for both the T20I and the ODI squads against Australia in September.
Archer, Buttler and Curran then flew to the UAE immediately after that series, where they have been living in bio-secure conditions for the last two months. Archer admitted this week that he was counting down the days until he could leave the UAE, while Ashley Giles, the ECB's director of men's cricket, and Eoin Morgan, England's limited-overs captain, have both spoken of the importance of protecting players' mental health in recent weeks.
"It is very tricky," Curran told Sky's IPL Cricket Show, "but we're in a very fortunate situation, playing the game we love, going out there and trying to entertain people at home - there's a lot of people in tough situations. It can be tough - if you're in all three formats, you're obviously travelling into different bubbles, not being able to spend time with family, loved ones things like that.
"I know speaking to the other England players that it is tricky. You look at the tours coming up and there's going to be a big schedule for all-format players. Some guys, I'm sure, will have to pull out at different stages. Some guys react to it differently: there are days when you're struggling, and days when you feel like you're coping OK.
"We've just got to keep trying to enjoy it: it can be tough at times, and it's just about trying to speak to the right people around you, and trying not to get too down on the down days, because there can be quite a few."
While England have always maintained that players opting not to be considered for a tour will not have their decisions held against them, Curran admitted that there remained some anxiety about the idea of giving someone else a chance to take your spot. That is particularly pertinent in Curran's case: while he holds a red-ball central contract, he is not currently guaranteed of his place across any of the three formats.
"I think you've got to keep trying to suck it up as long as you can," he said. "I'm sure there are going to be players in the near future who need a break. There are opportunities you don't want to give away - someone might come in and take your spot. There is a fine line, trying to balance that out and making sure you mind and your mental health is in the right place."
Curran has been one of the few Super Kings players to enhance their reputation in this season's IPL, which is the first time they have taken part in a season but failed to reach the playoffs. He is their leading wicket-taker, with 13 scalps and an economy rate of 8.22, having also also chipped in with 186 runs at a strike rate of 131.91.
Out of those, 53 runs came as a pinch-hitting opener across three innings, and while he has since shifted back down the order, Curran said that he had been told by his captain MS Dhoni to express himself in the way that Sunil Narine has done for the Kolkata Knight Riders in previous seasons.
"It came about because in our first couple of games we were quite slow out [of] the blocks in terms of our powerplay," Curran said. "You've seen KKR have sometimes done it with Narine, sending him out there with no fear of getting out. It is probably the best place to bat: you look at the England side, and all the guys want to bat up top. MS said to express myself and not try too hard.
"MS has sent a clear message to us about taking these last few games because we can definitely spoil a few other teams' chances of qualifying. You've seen the young guy Ruturaj Gaikwad come in for the last few games and get some amazing fifties. Now that we're out of the tournament, Chennai have sent quite a clear message about giving the youngsters an opportunity, and so far the guys that have come in have done really well."