We talk of process, protocols and system in place, but there is a void in that for sure. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be witnessing as many injuries as we have in the last four-five years. This is something to worry about, especially when we factor in the huge number of support staff and all the facilities provided to the players.
There have to be the right people to make the system effective. There is a lack of professionalism as far as the strength and conditioning and physical fitness are concerned. Someone has to take responsibility, rather than pointing fingers in various directions.
We have not won an ICC trophy for a decade. Injuries are part and parcel of sport, but recurrence and same players suffering different type of injuries when making a comeback is a huge concern. On-field injuries can happen any time, but a player picking up fitness-related injuries just after making a comeback is a different ball game altogether. So the BCCI has to set the process right. There are eight-nine months to go for the World Cup and the process should have started around 2021, with identifying the players who will be part of the World Cup plans and giving them a protocol to follow. I’m sure players are more than keen because when you are part of the World Cup mix, it is a matter of pride. There should be proper follow-up regarding workload management.
The proof of the pudding is in its eating. If the training is good, why are so many players getting injured? From my point of view, there is something wrong in the training methodology, recovery protocols and other aspects of fitness. Regular screening and fitness tests, according to formats and skill-set, have to be done. There has to be a regular debriefing with every player on a regular basis, so that we know where they stand and how they are developing.
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Certain problems start as niggles but become big injuries. One can nip certain things in the bud. But for that you need to identify them. For the World Cup, it is still not too late, but we need to identify the players – not to protect them and keep them in a bubble. From a physical point of view, they have to play as many games as possible and adapt to more variables. From diet, physical and psychological aspects, they need to get the system right.
Does lot of travelling affect recovery?
All professional teams have hectic travel schedules. The venues, conditions, time and formats are decided well in advance. So from nutrition to recovery, everything has to be prepared accordingly.
Players these days get chartered flights. They trust the support staff and follow the process suggested to them. Recovery is part and parcel of training. The schedule is usually prepared according to travel, time, condition and the food available. Players are there to play and the support staff have to keep them fit.
Do players rush back from injury or hide injuries?
This is where the honesty and the integrity of a strength-and- conditioning coach comes in when they declare a player 100 percent fit. No player will like to miss an opportunity to play for the country. It is the duty of the support staff to identify if a player is ready to take the field. You have to constantly test the players. One test will not fit all formats because we have seen players clearing Yo-Yo tests having a breakdown.
We talk about horses for courses, but what kind of horse? Is it a workhorse or race horse? It is important to understand the player and get their trust, which is why the debriefing session is important every week. Have a log and a debriefing to see where they are. If you let a half-fit player continue, you are letting down the team.
Can players feature in all three formats?
This question has been lingering around for a lot of time. Picking specialists for each format is a call that has to be taken by the selectors and the coaching staff. But if the selectors decide that a player is going to feature in all three formats, it is the duty of the strength and conditioning coach to keep the player fit. There is nothing wrong in players featuring in all three formats. Don’t forget, 10 years ago, you had MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan featuring in all three formats. Players understood their body and were smart enough to know what worked for them. And they shouldn’t follow what an S&C says blindly. They should ask questions.
Playing three formats is an evolution of the game and as far as fitness goes, everything is possible. But for that, testing, screening, training, plan & travel and diet schedule have to be finalised accordingly. There will be players who are equipped to play all three formats and only skill should determine it, not fitness. If there is an all-format player, he has to be trained accordingly. And as a player ages, one has to factor in that as well. Virat Kohli can’t be following the same process now that he was doing four years ago.
Is there lot of gym-based training?
Recently, former Australian pacer Brett Lee said too much gym-training can result in bulking. It can lead to looking good — six packs, eight packs are not for a cricketer. We always compare cricketers with other athletes. You can’t do that. No other athlete will look at a cricketer and say, ‘I want to be like him’. But cricketers sometimes tend to train like an NBA player or a (Cristiano) Ronaldo or (Novak) Djokovic. You’ve to train like a cricketer because the needs are different. What is required for a fast bowler is not pertinent for a batsman or to a spinner or a wicketkeeper. You need to train according to your skill. Strength is one component of fitness and not the end of it. A fast bowler should have force production, force reduction, angular movement. He is like a decathlete in athletics. A fast bowler shouldn’t be bulky. He should be lean, light and athletic. And you need to develop muscle memory. You are playing cricket based on skill-sets and not fitness. Fitness is like a pickle – an add-on. It should not be a hindrance to your skill. Cricket is game of skill and technical aspects. Fitness has to go in tandem with it.
What is pertinent to (Jasprit) Bumrah will not work for (Mohammed) Shami. Every player is different.
A uniform training system
You need to have an open line of communication between all the trainers – Indian team, Ranji Trophy, IPL or India A – and work in tandem. Too much information can also cause problems. A set protocol has to be in place for testing, screening and methodology in training.
After every IPL, it is common to see players gaining weight, fatigue, mental fatigue because of tension and travel. Someone has to take responsibility for the fitness of a player. This has to start from the Under-14 level. Setting up the process, template for a fitness programme is essential, or else we are just going to be shooting in the dark.
— As told to Venkata Krishna B
(The author was India’s strength & conditioning coach of the 2011 World Cup winning team and founder of Sports Dynamix that trains athletes including Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan among others).