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From Eoin Morgan and Warne to Kohli, cricketers have their say on playing football in warm-ups

Eoin Morgan
Eoin Morgan

With a football injury ruling Rory Burns out of the Test series against South Africa and the consequential ban by England's Director of Cricket Ashley Giles, the matter has been unlocked for debate, once again.

Injuries to Ian Bell and Matt Prior while playing football had led to eyebrows being raised about it being used as warm-up for a game of cricket. But it was when James Anderson damaged his ankle, in 2008, and Joe Denly suffered another (in)famous one through a rough tackle from Owais Shah, coach Andy Flower decided enough was enough and banned the game.

Touch rugby took its place. Not a great replacement, one would suggest.

"Yorkshire played a lot of football in warm ups in the brief time I was there. Durham played football religiously, we had to play football in the morning. Depending on the coach and some of the players in the England group, football was going alright for a little bit and then Jimmy [Anderson] went and stood on the ball in New Zealand [in 2008] and did his ankle and got us a ban," recalls former England pacer Steve Harmison.

The ban, though, proved to be temporary.

The matter came in the limelight about a decade later when Jonny Bairstow was ruled out of that fourth ODI against Sri Lanka in 2018 with a right ankle ligament injury sustained during a pre-training football session. He missed the last ODI on tour and the one-off T20 as well.

These days, you often find Bairstow working on his batting or keeping skills, while his teammates kick the ball around.

Denly, who once played for Charlton as a youth and was one of the best footballers in his Kent days, stays away from footballing action, post his groin injury.

However, that did not deter skipper Eoin Morgan from not ditching football. The skipper, in fact, reckons that it helps "improve balance and coordination".

Moeen Ali articulated the sentiments of the team, after the Bairstow mishap, "We love playing. It sometimes makes our day," Moeen explained. “I know there's people who don't like it but it's probably the first injury we've had in three years or something. It's a big part of the way we are as a team. It brings a lot of banter into the dressing room and we probably talk about the football more than the cricket sometimes."

But, Ashley Giles, who assumed the office of Director of England Cricket the same year as Bairstow's injury, had a totally different take on the matter than Ali, and he ensured that the public knew his opinion well before the ODI World Cup.

"I don't want to be blamed for us losing the World Cup because we're not playing football but I will talk to the captains and coaches about it. If you look at what football does, the benefits from a psychological and fun point of view are outstripped by the dangers. But we will discuss it," Giles said.

However, a few senior players persuaded him against the ban, citing it as a boost for team bonding. But, as Rory Burns became the latest victim of football warm-ups, Giles finally brought the ban in place.

The decision is in tune with the opinion of former cricketers like Michael Vaughan and Shane Warne.

Vaughan, who injured his knee playing football during warm-up for a Yorkshire match against Worcestershire in 2009, gave his two cents on the matter: The skipper Joe Root just managed to knock his ankle. England play football for 30 minutes a day, they love it. But as you see there, Rory Burns sits down, he goes for a scan, and he's out of the Test series. He's going to miss three [remaining] Tests against South Africa, he's going to miss the whole series because of a football injury. They've had three footballing injuries in 18 months.

"The days now of England players thinking they're going to get a Premier League football contract have gone. They ain't going to get signed by Liverpool, Man City, Man United. It's a nice finish but Rory Burns misses a Test series, it's bonkers."

Shane Warne followed suit, "Everyone goes out onto the ground, they warm up and they run around and do these silly little ladders and all that absolute rubbish that’s not going to help you for the day. You go inside and you sit down for half an hour and work out what you’re going to do. Warm ups, overrated. Get to the ground later, have a bigger sleep in, get to the swimming pool, get out and play. You don’t need all that absolute garbage at warm ups,” the former leggie opined.

Some other opinions from cricketers are worth a look.

Virat Kohli: Whenever the team is feeling down or we've had a hectic travel day and don't have the energy to do normal warm-up, football gives the extra motivation to run after a ball and show our skills. Basically, it gets the competitive nature out in a big way. Whenever we feel like we have to bond as a team and get our energy going, we have a quick game of football and we are ready to go.

When we play for long, we can actually go on for 40-45 minutes that burns you out completely. I’m someone who cannot control myself; I keep running back and forth. If you are not someone who likes to run laps around the ground, just play football for 40 minutes.

Ravindra Jadeja: I started playing football as a pre-practice routine when I joined the Indian team in 2009. We enjoy our football before practice. When I get some free time, I try to work on my skills as I love the sport.

Shane Watson (during his RCB days): Before any practice session the guys just love playing football. Virat is the Ronaldo of the team. (KL) Rahul is very serious about the sport and is good at it too.

Nottinghamshire batsman Chris Nash: Kick-abouts are fun, easy to set up, good exercise and just bloody good for a bit of team banter. Cricket games/tours are long, it’s different to football and rugby, a bit of fun is essential in warm-ups.

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