We’re talking about processes, protocols and the system in place, but there’s definitely a void there. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing as many injuries as we have seen in the last four or five years. This is something to worry about, especially considering the large number of support staff and all the facilities provided to players.
You have to have the right people to make the system work. There is a lack of professionalism when it comes to strength, conditioning and fitness. Someone has to take responsibility, rather than pointing fingers in different directions.
We haven’t won an ICC trophy for a decade. Injuries are an integral part of sport, but recurrence and the same players suffering different types of injuries on a comeback is a huge concern. Injuries on the pitch can happen at any time, but a player who suffers a fitness-related injury right after making a comeback is a whole different ballgame. BCCI must therefore put the process in place. There are eight to nine months left for 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 the players are more than enthusiastic because when you’re part of the World Cup mix, it’s a matter of pride. There should be proper follow-up regarding workload management.
The proof of the pudding is in its consumption. If the training is good, why do so many players get injured? From my perspective, there is something wrong with the training methodology, recovery protocols and other aspects of fitness. Regular screening and physical fitness tests, depending on formats and skills, must be carried out. There needs to be regular debriefing with every player on a regular basis, so we know where they are and how they are progressing.
Some problems start out as trouble but turn into big hurts. You can nip some things in the bud. But for that, you have to identify them. For the World Cup, it is not too late, but we must identify the players, not protect them and keep them in a bubble. From a physical point of view, they have to play as many matches as possible and adapt to more variables. From the perspective of food, physical and psychological aspects, they must have the right system.
Does a lot of travel affect recovery?
All professional teams have busy travel schedules. Locations, conditions, times and formats are decided well in advance. Thus, from nutrition to recovery, everything must be prepared accordingly.
Nowadays, players benefit from charter flights. They trust the support staff and follow the process offered to them. Recovery is an integral part of training. The schedule is usually prepared based on the trip, weather, condition and available food. The players are there to play and the support staff must keep them in shape.
Are players rushing after an injury or hiding injuries?
This is where the honesty and integrity of a strength and conditioning coach comes in when declaring a player to be in top shape. No player will want 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 enter the field. You have to constantly test the players. One test won’t fit all formats as we’ve seen players take Yo-Yo tests that break down.
We talk about horses for lessons, but what kind of horse? Is it a draft horse or a racehorse? It is important to understand the player and gain their trust, which is why the debriefing session is important every week. Have a diary and a debrief to see where they stand. If you let a semi-fit player continue, you let the team down.
Can players spawn in all three formats?
This question has been dragging on for a long time. Picking specialists for each format is a call that must be taken by selectors and 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 in shape. There’s nothing wrong with players being present in all three formats. Remember, 10 years ago you had MS Dhoni, Yuvraj SinghIrfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaher Khan presented 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 on three formats is an evolution of the game and when it comes to fitness, anything is possible. But for this, testing, screening, training, plan and travel and diet program should be finalized accordingly. There will be players equipped to play all three formats and only skill should determine that, not fitness. If there is an all-format player, he must be trained accordingly. And as a player ages, that has to be taken into account as well. Virat Kohli cannot follow the same process as four years ago.
Are there a lot of gym workouts?
Recently, former Australian stimulator Brett Lee said that too much training in the gym can lead to mass gain. It can look good – six packs, eight packs are not for a cricketer. We always compare cricketers with other athletes. You can not do this. 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 wicketkeeper. You have to train according to your skills. Strength is a component of fitness, not the end of it. A fast bowler should have force production, force reduction, angular movement. He is like a decathlete in track and field. A quick launcher shouldn’t be bulky. He must be lean, light and athletic. And you have to develop muscle memory. You play cricket based on your skill, not your physical condition. Fitness is like a pickle – an addition. This shouldn’t be a hindrance to your skill. Cricket is a game of skill and technicalities. Physical fitness has to go hand in hand with that.
What is relevant for (Jasprit) Bumrah will not work for (Mohammed) Shami. Every player is different.
A uniform training system
You must have an open line of communication between all the coaches – Indian team, Ranji Trophy, IPL or India A – and work in tandem. Too much information can also cause problems. A defined protocol should be in place for testing, screening and training methodology.
After each IPL, it is common to see players gaining weight, fatigue, mental fatigue due to tension and movement. Someone has to take responsibility for a player’s physical condition. It has to start at under-14 level. Setting up the process, the template for a fitness program is essential, otherwise we’ll just be shooting in the dark.
— As said in Venkata Krishna B
(The author was the Indian strength and conditioning coach of the 2011 World Cup winning team and the founder of Sports Dynamix which coaches athletes such as Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan among others).