“A lot of players want to be out there because it gives them a sense of purpose”

Ryan Higgins is driving to Oxford when TheCC catches up with him, one of the country’s great centres of learning.

His only frustration is that lessons of this pandemic are taking so long to sink in at cricket’s corridors of powers.

The Gloucestershire all-rounder isn’t alone. Yet he is one of the few prepared to speak out at a time when the uncertainty surrounding the game is in danger of paralysing the sport.

Currently on furlough, Higgins believes he should be allowed to train wherever he can in order to ensure that if and when the season gets underway he is as prepared as possible for whatever comes next.

As it is, the lack of clarity he’s receiving from the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) and the ECB is throwing up more questions than answers.

“The frustrations are starting to show now,” he tells TheCC. “To start with, I think everyone was just trying to be positive about it but there hasn’t been much clarity, we don’t really feel like we’re getting the information we need.

“I’ve found it very tough getting on the fence answers about everything. Everyone is saying it (furlough) is a grey area but I don’t think people are even asking the right questions to the right people.

“I feel like a minority of players haven’t been listened to. There’s a lot of frustration around the communication. The PCA have said one thing, the ECB have said something else. The counties aren’t really able to tell us anything but to be fair that’s not their job in a way. They’ve unfortunately had to put us on furlough so they can’t tell us what we can and can’t do.

“I think people are very scared of the whole situation but whether anyone has picked up the phone to HMRC and asked the questions that need answering – in a way that the RFU appear to have done – I’m not sure.”

An article in the Daily Mail sent hares racing, with the paper claiming that the government had given permission for players to resume training without being taken off furlough.

That understandably created a huge sense of anticipation among those county players, many of whom hadn’t picked up a bat or ball in anger since the middle of March.

Although those players in England’s 55-strong touring party will begin training shorty, Higgins and hundreds of others are still unsure as to when they will be granted the same privilege.

“Some people like cycling, some people like running but, for me, going to the nets and having a bat or a ball, that’s my therapy I guess. That’s what gets me through the week. It has been a struggle not being around people, not being around your mates and having fun.”

And on the most basic level possible, that’s all the 25-year-old wants to do, because the thing that defines him as a person has been taken away. And, for the moment at least, there are no guarantees over when he can expect cricket to be a fundamental part of his life again.

“Cricket mentally stimulates me, it gives me purpose,” he says. “I think a lot of guys will be struggling with this more than they realise. I’ve realised how much I’ve struggled without cricket. And as much as some guys struggle with cricket at times, it is part of our lives. Now it’s even worse because I’m looking at guys who have been taken off furlough and into the ECB’s training squads.

“That’s fine because the ECB are paying them but that hurts that little bit more because you want to be playing as much as those guys.

“When you’re going through something it’s very easy to be positive at times, without really realising the consequences of what’s happening. A lot of people are in worse situations than us, I acknowledge that, but this is a situation that is potentially going to cause a large number of issues among players moving forwards.”

For Higgins himself, the Zimbabwean-born former Middlesex all-rounder should have been looking forward to a first season back in Division One of the County Championship after Gloucestershire’s promotion from the second tier in 2019.

Now, like the rest of those players currently furloughed, he’s wondering whether 2020 will represent a blank page in his county career.

“This crisis has shown a lot,” he says. “Cricket isn’t all about money. I get it needs money to survive but there needs to be a balance and, at the moment, I don’t think there is.

“For me, I just want to go and play cricket. That makes a big difference to my life. I’m not just talking about playing first class cricket or playing games even. It’s just the training, the routine. It’s more than my job, it’s what I love to do.

“Some people like cycling, some people like running but, for me, going to the nets and having a bat or a ball, that’s my therapy I guess. That’s what gets me through the week. It has been a struggle not being around people, not being around your mates and having fun.

“It would make it a lot easier to be able to train. There will be a lot of guys affected by this, not just me. A lot of players will want to be out there because it gives them a sense of purpose.

“I can’t see why anyone would think that training at your local cricket clubs could break furlough laws. If I couldn’t play county cricket I would love to play club cricket instead.

“I’ve played a lot of club cricket throughout my career. I just want to play as much as possible. I was at Cleveden Cricket Club but I’ve just moved to Bristol Cricket Club, which is a bit closer to home.

“It would be great to just head down there and have a net. That would be awesome.”