Room Service?

There are so many factors to consider during the forthcoming T20 World, all of which will, at some point and to a greater or lesser degree, influence the outcome. Some will be, as the players all like to say, ‘the controllables’ which they must be concerned about, and others will be ‘the uncontrollables’ which they must not worry about.

I’ve always believed there to be more grey area between the two than players and management give credit for. Of course you can’t prevent it raining, but you can give thought to how you can best spend your time when it is raining so that you are best prepared for when play resumes.

Pitches, injuries, the balls, boundaries, day or day-night games – they’ll all play a role. As will room-service.

Several years ago a prominent Proteas player was discovered, accidentally, to have a habit of ordering late night meals, especially after day-night games. Decompressing and unwinding after a late finish are perennial problems for cricketers. The IPL has taken these hazards to previously unimagined levels, but even in domestic cricket teams returning to their hotel well after midnight is common.

With adrenalin still surging and match details, good and bad, pounding through their heads, some players simply lie on their beds and watch random TV programmes about fishing or drag-car racing until they are tired enough to sleep.

Perhaps they are the lucky ones. Others have different vices, like eating, or drinking. The player mentioned above would order a full mixed-grill of chops, wors, steak and chips at 1:00am in the morning, as much to unravel as for the pleasure the food gave him.

How was his ‘guilty pleasure’ discovered? Room Service.

Personal privacy is important at all times in life but even more so in a ‘bubble’ environment. There are serious issues, like alcohol dependency, but also apparently trivial ones like the desire for a bag of nacho chips, a tub of vanilla ice-cream or a litre of coke. Even health fads can be exposed leading to unwanted and unwelcome comments from team mates.

Bio-bubble living is similar to power-cuts (‘load-shedding’ is crap metaphor) in that everyday conveniences are exposed. Everybody habitually turns on lights and coffee-machines during outages. Living in a ‘bubble’ is like that – only once you’re in one do you realise how much you miss the roasted almonds which are a staple of your daily life, or the glass of Jamieson before bed, or just your favourite chewing gum. You can’t get it. At least not without the risk of everyone else knowing about it.

Some time ago, at an ICC event, I overheard two players – not Proteas – discussing the wine list on the room service menu. One was recommending the Chardonnay to another. “Just remember to ask for it to be covered,” he said. I assumed this meant covered with an insulating ice-jacket to keep it cool. In fact, he was talking about those silver domes which fancy hotels put over meals when they’re delivered to your room. Turns out the team had a ‘no drinking during the tournament’ policy. It’s one thing having your drink obscured from public view, quite another trusting the waiter’s confidentiality.

I don’t pretend to be the best connected reporter on the cricket circuit but I’m certainly not the least connected. Recently, I learned of an international player in the IPL who enquired of their hotel management in the UAE of the “integrity and confidentiality of the in-room service.”

Each squad will have ‘runners’ to do shopping errands for them so the almonds and chewing gum can be delivered without players leaving their bubbles at the World Cup. The UAE equivalent of Mr.Delivery is also on hand for players craving a Nandos meal, or whatever their favourite might be. But it’s a hassle and, like the lights not working during an outage, it wears you down.

The inherent ‘unfairness’ of cricket and the uncertainty about the future for the majority of players makes it more stressful than most other sports which allow a player to fight back and rectify an error which cost the team a goal or a try. In 20-over cricket even the bowlers only get a maximum of 24 balls to get it right.

The majority of professional sports people suffer with approximately 30% higher than normal levels of insecurity and anxiety. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact – there are dozens of surveys and research projects which confirm it. Psychologists have been training players for decades to learn how to ‘switch off’ and ‘escape’.

Yes, they can still play video-games in their team room and there is always the Discovery channel and those programmes about bounty-hunters bidding on the contents of expired storage containers. There are always friends and family to talk to. Players are always in the glare of the spotlight during a World Cup but this time there will be less escape from it than ever before. They may not even be able to trust what used to be a tourist’s most convenient source of comfort. “A Caesar salad with extra chicken, please, and the Chardonnay. Covered, please.”

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