Players and staff living alone during long periods of isolation forced by the coronavirus pandemic will have their mental health closely watched by Cricket Australia. This comes in the wake of the national team coach Justin Langer balancing the personal benefits of extended time at home with the maelstrom engulfing global sport and society beyond the sanctuary of his backyard.
As he reflected upon the rush of events to see much of the world pushed into a state of shutdown by coronavirus, Langer said that for constantly travelling cricketers and staff, enforced time at home could actually be construed as a kind of “nirvana” after years of a treadmill between hotels, cricket grounds and airports.
But at the same time Langer said CA was actively discussing the need to keep a close eye on players and staff left to their own devices, while he also expressed his awareness – through his role as a board director for the West Coast Eagles AFL club and former county batsman – of the chaos enveloping winter sports in Australia and cricket played in the northern summer.
“The mental health thing, we talked about it in a conference call yesterday, particularly for any of our staff or players who are home alone basically. We have to keep an eye on those guys and girls to make sure they’re ok,” Langer said. “Hopefully being around their families and having a rest from the pressure of the games at the moment will have an impact. But we’re very aware and we’ve got incredible resources available for all our players and staff at Cricket Australia. In leadership we talk about caring about people – it’s a really, really important part of any leadership.
“And we’re seeing that. It’s been led by Kevin Roberts, we are doing that – to make sure we’re caring and supporting all our staff. So with that, we have greater awareness of the mental health issues. We have awareness of people who will be more or less vulnerable to that. So we’ll make sure we look after them and care for them. That’s absolutely crucial.
“We’ve got incredible resources in Cricket Australia now. We’ve got full-time professional development managers in all the states, we’ve got full-time psychologists at most of the states. At CA we have incredible resources. I’ve had 15 teleconferences in the last week or so and found it really working well. We’re all staying connected. One of the great things about modern technology is we’re able to stay connected. There’s so many other ways you can learn. There’s books, online learning, the internet is incredible.”
Langer’s family has already been personally affected by the parallel economic crisis as his daughters have lost their jobs in Perth. As part of the Eagles organisation, he has been privy to the emergency measures being taken by the AFL, where staff have been stood down en masse and administrators have been left with a series of agonising choices as they contemplate the possible loss of a full season.
“The very fact we’re sitting here now, the truth is for me personally and for all the players, this is like nirvana in the fact we’re home with our families, we sleep in our own bed, we eat home-cooked dinners and we can still work in one degree or another from home,” Langer said. “What it does do for me and a lot of the guys who are on the road for 10 months of the year it gives us the chance to be with our families, grow a beard, wear no shoes, get in my garden and be able to work from my office at home. There’s upside.
“I obviously have great empathy for some of the other codes. I’ve got some strong links to AFL footy, I see what’s happening to rugby, potentially for English cricket, I see what’s happening with the IPL – a lot of people will be suffering at the moment. We’re in the very fortunate situation where we’ve come to the end of our season. A lot of our guys were going to take some sort of break anyway.
“We know we can’t sit on our hands, we don’t know how long this will last for. We have to be ready and organised for what we have – the next few months will go very quickly and we just have to be ready. We keep talking within the Australian cricket team to all the players – stay ready, stay ready, stay ready. It’s no different for us in coaching or administration. We have to stay ready when the next opportunity comes and we will definitely do that.”
Looking ahead, Langer implored the game’s decision-makers to make sure they did not waste the precious time that Australian cricket had been granted to be ready for future eventualities. “If worse comes to worse and we lose a cricket season – obviously we’ll learn lessons from the other codes living through it now. It’s a great eye opener to me, how careful we have to be,” he said.
“We talk about being prepared for rainy days. This is certainly more than a rainy day, and you’ve heard me say many times before – my role on the board of West Coast Eagles has been an incredible personal and professional opportunity for me. And in times like this, you get to see some of the best corporate minds talking about how you get through these tough situations.
“It’s been an inspirational opportunity. But having said that, we have great empathy. Because of my involvement and close links to the AFL, I have great empathy for so many people going through this tough time. We’ve seen it – whether it’s a footy club or my daughters all lose their jobs, no sport on TV, the corporate world. It’s a really tough time. I’ve got great empathy and sympathy for so many sectors right now.”
He also hoped that this sudden pause to global cricket would afford the opportunity and perspective to look seriously at how the schedule has evolved into the continuous merry-go-round of series and tournaments that the ICC board was pondering ahead of the next broadcast rights cycle from 2023 to 2031.
“There’s been discussions for probably 15 years about this schedule and I wish there was easy answers to it,” Langer said. “Because if – I’ve reflected a lot on this recently – we didn’t have such a hectic schedule then my advice from a financial point of view, there’s going to be some real challenges isn’t there? This is – we prepare for rainy days. This is more than a rainy day.
“Thankfully there is money in the game to support people in these times. It’s a real balancing act, I don’t know what the answer is. While there is so much talk about the scheduling, we also have to respect the hectic nature of the business we’re in employs a lot of people and keeps us – having some security in these tough times. It’s complex. I’m sure the discussions will keep happening in the future. But there’s no easy answers to this one.”