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Travel fatigue invites 'disaster' as PCA reveal damning player welfare survey

Joe Root leads calls for more sympathetic fixture list after players voice physical wellbeing fears

Daryl Mitchell, PCA chairman, speaks at an event

Daryl Mitchell, the PCA chairman, wants players to have more downtime between matches  •  Getty Images for PCA

Joe Root says that a greater focus on player welfare amid an ever more congested fixture list is a "non-negotiable", after a survey by the Professional Cricketers' Association revealed a startling 81 per cent of county cricketers have been left fearing for their physical health due to their season-long workloads.
The survey, which was conducted in pre-season with all 18 counties, has led the PCA to brand the current playing schedule "not fit for purpose", in particular due to stark issues around matchday travel that have led to calls for an urgent rethink by the ECB and county chiefs to "pre-empt disaster".
More than eight out of 10 county cricketers admitted they were concerned for their well-being as the result of a packed season, while as many as 76 per cent revealed safety concerns around travelling to and from fixtures during the season, notably during the Vitality Blast when teams finish late and play the next day. This year will see 55 back-to-back T20s, an increase from 34 last year.
Perhaps the starkest example is Gloucestershire, who play T20s against Glamorgan in Cardiff on June 20, before returning to Bristol the very next day to host Somerset. They then start a four-day match against Yorkshire at Scarborough after a one-day break on June 23.
While teams usually travel by bus, issues arise when players drive themselves home, often in the early hours of the morning. The PCA revealed they had to intervene when they discovered one county used minibuses driven by players last season. It is understood the county has stopped that practice.
"Back-to-back games have gone up considerably, and are only looked at through a commercial lens," Daryl Mitchell, the PCA chief operating officer, said. "We understand that, but there needs to be a balance.
"Over 10 per cent of our membership accessed our mental health services last year. It's difficult to get away from the pressure of professional but I think the relentless schedule is a factor.
"There's reports of players who have got off the team bus, driven home and forgotten how they got there, almost on autopilot. Switching off while driving has an element of danger. We want to pre-empt it before anything disastrous happens.
"Our CEO, Rob [Lynch] is worried about getting the call in the early hours of the morning when someone has driven off the M1. That scares us. Seventy-six per cent of players have concerns about safety when travelling, which is a high number."
In addition to calling for a minimum standard of three days between four-day matches and at least one rest day between T20s, 66 per cent of those surveyed believe the current schedule is not conducive to high performance.
That sentiment was echoed by Root, who believes change will bring about "long-lasting benefits for English cricket". Though protected from the schedule as a centrally contracted England cricketer, Root is playing five matches for Yorkshire in the County Championship.
"I am fortunate to play a significant part of the season for Yorkshire this year and looking at the fixture list from a physical, wellbeing and high-performance angle does cause me concern," Root said.
"County cricket is the breeding ground for some of the best talent in the game and this requires world leading structures to allow players to reach their full potential. This is a benefit for everybody in the game.
"Having space to recover, prepare and improve your game during the season is crucial and the creation of minimum standards to protect travel windows and player welfare is non-negotiable."
The PCA's findings and call for action come at a pivotal time in English cricket, with the County Partnership Agreement - the agreement binding the ECB, PCA and counties - up for renewal. This week will also likely see the counties and MCC agree on the ECB's proposals around private investment in the Hundred which could raise around £500 million for the domestic game. All of which leads into the next broadcast cycle, which begins in 2025.
The Hundred remains the elephant in the room as far as fixture congestion is concerned, particularly with the Blast. This year's eight-team competition has ring-fenced July and the first three weeks of August, with no Blast fixtures and just three days of Championship cricket scheduled in this period.
While appreciating the value the Hundred and the importance of matchday revenues for clubs at a precarious time for county finances, Mitchell has called on chiefs and stakeholders to collaborate more around their decision-making. A more altruistic approach is required to ensure players, and by extension, the game, are better protected moving forward.
"The power constitutionally is with the county chairs. But from our side it needs a really joined-up approach. Our focus is player safety, physical or mental wellbeing. It needs to be collaborative between the ECB, PCA and the counties to come up with solutions.
"We saw with the High Performance Review, if you look at the structure from one particular lens without the others, that makes it very tricky to get anything over the line. It has to be joined up.
"We could very easily put out a structure that the players think is ideal, but players also understand the need for the commercial side of the game, the passionate members we have in this country, who are the lifeblood of the counties, who are represented by their chairs. All these stakeholders need to have that approach. We need a collaborative solution to some of the problems we've got.
In a statement released in response to the PCA's survey, the ECB said: "As the PCA recognises, the men's domestic schedule is a complex issue. The players have an important voice in discussions around this, and we are committed to working with them and the First Class Counties to discuss the best ways of overcoming some of the challenges."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo