‘England’s Ashes players were sitting ducks in Australia – they deserve medals not criticism’

England’s Ashes players “deserve medals not criticism” for playing five Test matches in Australia during the pandemic and were “sitting ducks” during the series after 18 months of bubble life, said England assistant coach Paul Collingwood.

Collingwood, who is acting head coach of the T20 squad in the West Indies, also said that the five-Test Ashes series should have been split across two winters to ensure England’s players were fresher to compete. The notion of playing two Tests in 2021/22 and three in 2022/23 was discussed among players but was never formally proposed by the England & Wales Cricket Board to Cricket Australia.

“People have to understand what it’s been like, and it is almost impossible to measure how much the bubbles have affected preparation,” Collingwood said.

“These guys deserve medals not criticism. They should be told ‘well done’ for even going. 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.

“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 would’ve been much better if we’d done two matches and then three next year. That would’ve been a great compromise. But, no, Australia were not bothered that they were going to receive an England team who were mentally fatigued, they just wanted to get the product out there. They just wanted the Ashes. We were sitting ducks.”

Collingwood said that, during England’s intense schedule, it has felt as if finances were prioritised ahead of the mental wellbeing of players.

“We kept cricket going for those two years; we had to do it for financial reasons. Players have had to sacrifice things, as have their families,” Collingwood said.

“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.

“If people are expecting top performances from your best players, and your best players are playing all the time, it’s unrealistic. You just can’t do that.

“Hopefully bubbles are starting to move out of cricket now and I just hope the administrators and governing bodies don’t keep pressing for them trying to protect matches because we also have to protect the mental health of the players and management. 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 – whether it be media, players or administrators. We saved a lot of jobs doing that. The Ashes was one step too far.”

Collingwood said that he fears that bubbles could shorten players’ careers, citing the examples of South African pair Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris. Aged 29, de Kock has retired from Test cricket, while Morris retired from all-formats aged 34.

“This is another thing that I’m worried about. You have seen it around world cricket. People like De Kock, Chris Morris retired early,” Collingwood said.

“Take someone like Chris Woakes. The most loveable and down-to-earth guy. I have seen him in some serious mental states. 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.”

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