England players' return positive for county cricketers, says PCA's Ian Thomas

By Nick WebbBBC Sport Wales
Ian Thomas: Cricketers have been exceptional during lockdown

County cricketers will be heartened by England players returning to training, according to Professional Cricketers' Association director Ian Thomas.

Ex-Glamorgan batsman Thomas admits many PCA members are "feeling the pinch" mentally as they remain inactive.

But he says the start of preparations for England's summer Test series with West Indies is welcome.

"There's some positive news with England players returning to training," Thomas told BBC Sport Wales.

"I don't think we can underestimate the effect that has on domestic county players, but they are still furloughed."

There is no firm timetable for county cricket's return, with most players furloughed.

The return of England bowlers to individual training at seven venues around England on 21 May marks the first supervised work for professional cricketers in the UK since the lockdown began in March.

England's series with West Indies could start in July.

Thomas was speaking as part of efforts to promote mental health awareness among professional sports people.

"They're human, and with no cricket on warm summer days, eight weeks on, they're really feeling the pinch," he added.

"So we're very conscious of reiterating the support we have available for them."

The PCA has its mental health services funded by its charity arm, in partnership with the Sporting Chance charity set up by former Arsenal and England footballer Tony Adams.

"Referrals went quiet for the first couple of weeks (of lockdown), but the last 10 days, we've dealt with quite a few from current players, past players and in one case a family member, so those services are going to be ever more vital to our members, " said Thomas.

Bess opens up

Somerset and England spinner Dom Bess is backing the PCA cause.

"I think it's really important to talk about mental health. The first time I experienced anxiety was during my school exams and I had some real struggles," he told a PCA podcast.

"I never nipped it in the bud at school and then little triggers would make me really anxious from then on.

"A big step for me was understanding that it's OK not to be OK. When I understood that, I realised that it was okay to speak and open up."

Life after cricket

With 130 professionals out of contract at the end of the summer, and the game facing a financial squeeze in common with most sport, it is possible that some players will not have any chance to earn a new deal by scoring runs and taking wickets, even if the T20 Blast is played.

"We continually remind players to prepare for life after cricket. We've reminded people to use their time effectively, to engage in courses, webinars, reading, getting CVs in order- we have a team to support all those things which have become more prominent," Thomas explained.

"We had a low number of players retiring or released last year, so we've foreseen more players leaving the game this year even before Covid-19 happened.

"Glamorgan, for example, had quite a big squad this year.

"We'd be naive not to think that with challenges to counties' budgets, some decisions won't come down to the financial impact on each club."

Thomas is not giving up hope that some county and club cricket will happen in 2020, admitting it would "feel like a robbery" to have a blank summer.

But he realises his role of protecting professional players if jobs disappear is more important this year than ever.

The PCA advises members of the public affected by mental health concerns to contact the charity Mind.external-link

Also if you or someone you know has been affected by issues raised in this story, help and support is available at bbc.co.uk/actionline

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