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No starting point in view says Essex head coach McGrath

PUBLISHED: 08:00 13 April 2020

Essex head coach Anthony McGrath during day one of the first class match at Fenner's, Cambridge.

Essex head coach Anthony McGrath during day one of the first class match at Fenner's, Cambridge.

PA Wire/PA Images

According to the now redundant fixture list, Anthony McGrath should be overseeing Essex’s first domestic outing of the season today, a final limber-up at Fenner’s against Cambridge students.

A spectator watches the action during day one of the first class match between Cambridge MCCU and Essex at Fenner's, Cambridge on the opening day of the 2019 seasonA spectator watches the action during day one of the first class match between Cambridge MCCU and Essex at Fenner's, Cambridge on the opening day of the 2019 season

Instead, his players and staff are on furlough, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the head coach is left like an admiral with no fleet to command.

“Normally, at this time of year I’m stressing about selection, who’s going to be playing, where we’re going to be training, that kind of thing,” said McGrath.

“Whereas at this moment – and I think this is what the players are finding difficult – there’s no real goal to aim for. There’s no starting point in view.

“Mentally it’s hard to get the juices flowing for what is going to happen in the season. It’s been a huge change for all of us.

“This time of year, when you’ve been in the game a long time, your body clock and your mentality accept that you’re in for a hard six months’ slog. Being at home is strange, especially when you’re not going back and forth to the ground and getting ready for games.

“It’s a bit strange not being at a cricket ground at Easter. But it’s the same for all of us, I guess. The weather’s typical: when you’re not playing, it’s sunny. It’s been nice for the last week or two. We could have been getting some good preparation in.”

What pre-season work Essex managed to squeeze in before lockdown was, ironically, going very well, not least the week they had in Abu Dhabi before being forced home.

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“It was probably one of our best camps ever,” McGrath addded. “The work we got in while we were there was sensational. We felt we would be very well prepared for the season.”

What shape the players will be in when their period of furlough finishes and they return to training remains to be seen.

“It’s going to be tough,” admits McGrath. “There is only so much the guys can do. Obviously the Government’s advice is not to leave your home, apart from one form of exercise every day. Hopefully the players take that on board and try and stay as physically fit as they can.

“The one good thing is, before we went away in early March, we had a fitness test and all the players recorded the highest fitness levels ever seen at Essex, I understand. So that will stand them in good stead.

“Of course, it depends when we start. If we start in June, for instance, the players are probably going to be in a better place than if it’s August because it’s not just keeping your physical fitness up, it’s keeping your mental state up, too.

“Hopefully we’re going to have a bit of time to get them ready when we do get the all-clear and we’ll see how they are when they report back.”

Before the players were stood down last week, they were involved in the club’s Outreach initiative by phoning vulnerable members to check how they were and cheer them up.

McGrath joined in hitting the phones and said: “It was a really good initiative and the feedback’s been really good. Everyone has been really appreciative. Everyone is missing their cricket, cooped up at home, but to be able to speak to the players has been a great boost to them.”

In the meantime, the last man standing remains busy, adding: “There’s a lot of planning going on, a lot of calls with the ECB about when we’re going to get back and how it’s going to look. I’m involved in that almost daily.

“At the moment there’s not much to report because we’re still following the Government advice, but I think in the coming weeks as the virus flattens we’ll be having discussions about trying to make plans for the season.”


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