We talk about processes, protocols and systems, but there is definitely a void in that. Otherwise we wouldn’t have as many injuries as we have in the past four to five years. This is something to worry about, especially when we take into account the sheer number of support staff and all the facilities provided to the players.
There must be the right people to make the system effective. There is a lack of professionalism in terms of strength and conditioning and physical fitness. Someone needs to take responsibility, instead of pointing the finger in different directions.
We haven’t won an ICC trophy in ten years. Injuries are an essential part of sports, but repetition and the same players getting different types of injuries when making a comeback is a major concern. Injuries on the field can happen anytime, but a player suffering fitness-related injuries just after making a comeback is a whole different story. So the BCCI has to fix the process. There are eight to nine months left before the World Cup and the process should have started around 2021, 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 excited because being part of the World Cup mix is a matter of pride. There should be proper follow-up with regard to workload management.
The proof of the pudding is in the food. If the training is good, why do so many players get injured? In my opinion, there is something wrong with the training methodology, recovery protocols and other aspects of fitness. Regular screening and fitness testing, according to formats and skills, should be done. Regular debriefing should take place with each player so that we know where they stand and how they are developing.
Certain problems start out as minor problems but become major injuries. One can nip certain things in the bud. But for that you need to identify them. It’s not too late for the World Cup, but we need to identify the players – not to protect them and keep them in a bubble. From a physical point of view, they need to play as many games as possible and adapt to more variables. From nutrition, physical and psychological aspects, they have to get the system right.
Does a lot of traveling affect recovery?
All professional teams have hectic travel schedules. The locations, conditions, time and formats are determined well in advance. So from nutrition to recovery, everything should be prepared accordingly.
Players get charter flights these days. They trust the support staff and follow the process suggested to them. Recovery is an essential part of training. The schedule is usually set up based on travel, time, condition and available food. Players are there to play and the coaching has to keep them fit.
Are players rushing back from injury or are they hiding injuries?
This is where the honesty and integrity of a strength and conditioning coach come into play when they declare a player 100 percent fit. No player will like to miss an opportunity to play for the country. It is the support staff’s job to determine if a player is ready to take the field. You have to constantly test the players. One test doesn’t fit all formats, as we’ve seen players pass Yo-Yo tests with a glitch.
We talk about horses for courses, but what kind of horse? Is it a workhorse or a racehorse? It is important to understand the player and gain their trust, which is why the debriefing session every week is important. Have a log and debrief to see where they are. If you let a half-fit player continue, you let the team down.
Can players appear in all three formats?
This question has been around for a long time. Selecting specialists for each format is a call to be answered by the selectors and technical staff. But if the selectors decide that a player will play in all three formats, it is the strength and conditioning coach’s job to keep the player fit. There is nothing wrong with players coming in all three formats. Remember, 10 years ago you had MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan in all three formats. Players understood their bodies and were smart enough to know what worked for them. And they shouldn’t blindly follow what an S&C says. They should ask questions.
Playing three formats is an evolution of the game and when it comes to fitness anything is possible. But before that, testing, screening, training, plan & travel and diet schedule should be completed accordingly. There will be players who are equipped to play all three formats and only skill should determine this, not fitness. If there is an all-format player, he should be trained accordingly. And as a player gets older, you have to take that into account as well. Virat Kohli cannot follow the same process as four years ago.
Do you train a lot in the gym?
Recently, former Australian pacer Brett Lee said that exercising too much in the gym can lead to bulking up. It can make you look good – six packs, eight packs are not for a cricketer. We always compare cricketers to other athletes. You can not 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 have to train like a cricketer because the needs are different. What is required for a fast bowler is irrelevant for a batsman or for a spinner or a wicket-keeper. You have to train according to your skill. Strength is part of fitness, not the end of it. A fast bowler must have force production, force reduction and angle movement. He is like a decathlete in athletics. A fast bowler should not be bulky. He must be slim, light and athletic. And you have to develop muscle memory. You play cricket based on skills, not fitness. Fitness is like a pickle – an add-on. It shouldn’t get in the way of your skill. Cricket is a game of skill and technicality. Fitness has to match that.
What is relevant to (Jasprit) Bumrah will not work for (Mohammed) Shami. Every player is different.
A unified training system
You need to have an open line of communication between all trainers – Indian team, Ranji Trophy, IPL or India A – and work together. Too much information can also cause problems. There should be a set protocol for testing, screening and methodology in training.
After each IPL, it is normal for players to gain weight, become more tired, or become mentally fatigued from tension and travel. Someone has to take responsibility for a player’s fitness. This must start from the Under-14 level. Setting up the process, template for a fitness program is essential, otherwise we’re just going to shoot in the dark.
— As told to Venkata Krishna B
(The author was India’s strength and conditioning coach to the 2011 World Cup winning team and founder of Sports Dynamix which trains athletes including Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan.)