Paul Collingwood fears for the long-term mental health of England cricketers following two years of Covid-enforced bubbles and believes a disrupted preparation meant they were “sitting ducks” at the Ashes.
The onset of the pandemic has left England regularly contending with restrictive conditions, initially at home and then on tour which Collingwood suspects has inhibited performance levels.
But of greater worry to the England assistant, taking charge for the Twenty20 series against the West Indies in Barbados in the absence of head coach Chris Silverwood, is the impact of lengthy stints in these environments.
While Collingwood accepted global circumstances have meant compromises to keep the game afloat, he is concerned Ben Stokes taking a break last year, partly to focus on his mental wellbeing, might just be the tip of the iceberg.
“We kept cricket going for those two years; we had to do it for financial reasons,” Collingwood said. “Players have had to sacrifice things, as have their families.
“You don’t see families when you are in the bubbles or if they do come in it’s an awful environment for them to be in. It’s going to be impossible to measure the effect that had.
“We have seen Ben Stokes, someone we consider to be the most mentally tough cricketer in the world, been hit by this.
“I just hope there are no ramifications moving forward because when they come, they won’t be obvious next week or the week after. These are things that might come out down the line. That’s what scares me.”
England have been heavily criticised following an Ashes campaign where they suffered four heavy defeats – and only avoided a whitewash after Australia were foiled by last-wicket pair Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
Collingwood, who left the tour after the second Test to be ready to lead the white-ball group in the Caribbean, admitted England made various false steps during the series but is adamant they were hamstrung from the off.
A number of their contingent were given minimal time to acclimatise after arriving at the end of the T20 World Cup before undergoing a mandatory two-week quarantine period, while unseasonal rain in Brisbane wiped out all but a handful of overs in a couple of intra-squad games.
“We didn’t even see the lads who came from England until four days before the Ashes started,” Collingwood added. “We were sitting ducks, we really were.
“Resilience is a major quality you need to have when you go to Australia, and if your resilience is removed because of the conditions you’ve been in, that has an effect.
“Yes, we made mistakes, 100 per cent we made selection mistakes, we made toss mistakes, but the fact we actually turned up and agreed a five-match Ashes series, the guys should be given medals for that.
“It’s the equivalent of the England football team being asked to go to a World Cup, then from that bubble into the Euros. Would you expect a performance from that scenario? It’s ludicrous.
“What I have seen over the last two years is that we’ve kept the show on the road, and it was important to keep the show on the road to preserve people’s jobs. We saved a lot of jobs doing that. The Ashes was one step too far.”