Gloster’s fight to keep cricketers fighting fit

"Most of the Indian pace bowlers get injured due to overload. It’s not just the bowling load; it’s a cumulative workload. And that can be bowling plus training plus running plus gym work plus... you know, all of them," says physiotherapist John Gloster.

Gazing into the past or the future? Well, the past has taught physiotherapist John Gloster a lot. And armed with those lessons, he is confident of facing the present and the future.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Gloster with Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the Eden Gardens in November 2007. Dhoni was not fond of gym work and compensated by playing football and badminton.   -  SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

After taking care of the fitness needs of international cricketers for over a decade, Australian physiotherapist John Gloster has descended to the grassroots. As KOOH Sports’ technical director, he’s now involved with physical training of over 250,000 school children across India. “Fitness has perhaps been an inherent problem with Indian sportspeople and the general population over the last few decades,” he says, “But more important for me is to change the mindset about health and fitness in this country.”Gloster spoke about the fitness issues of Indian fast bowlers, the advantages of IPL for a young player, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and some of the funniest people he has encountered in the Indian team.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: India has seen quite a few fast bowlers dropping their pace after an injury. And most of them have been injured at least once in their career. What do you think is the reason?

Answer: Injuries are part and parcel of the game. Fast bowlers, especially, come into the game knowing that they might be injured at some point of their career. Our job is to ensure that they recover fully from it. I think what happens is that we try to interfere too much with fast bowlers rather than nurture them. Most of them get injured due to overload. It’s not just the bowling load; it’s a cumulative workload. And that can be bowling plus training plus running plus gym work plus… you know, all of them. We failed to consider that. And that might have caused their systems to break down. Now we understand that better, thanks to studies done on ‘load.’ So, hopefully, we will get better results from the fast bowlers.

How do fast bowlers cope with the extremely hot conditions in the sub-continent?

Well, they grew up and have played in these conditions. So, that’s not new to them. They struggle more when they leave the country and play in places like England and New Zealand, where it’s mostly cold. But, yeah, this is probably a physically taxing environment to play any sport, especially cricket. So, medical practitioners and physios should educate young players on preparation and recovery. If preparation and recovery are adequate then you can adapt to any environment. If they can delay fatigue and ensure that they don’t wear out because of dehydration, then half the battle is won.

When a young player moves from domestic to international level, how difficult is it for him/her to cope with the change in training methods and food habits?

I think one of the things that the IPL (Indian Premier League) has done is to elevate young players from obscurity to the international stage overnight. Once they get there, they will notice a difference. At club level and at Ranji level, there’s still some lack of support staff — like the physios, masseurs, nutritionists, etc. Also, the international physios need to be aware that these young cricketers will not have had the preparation or the adaptation time for the load that will be put on them at the international level.

Do you think cricketers are being overworked today? Because now we have Tests, ODIs and numerous T20 leagues being played almost throughout the year…

Very few play all forms of the game. And now we have a better idea of the schedule. We know things in advance because of the future tours programme and the domestic calendar. So, it helps us prepare adequately. The systems are in place now to monitor the load of the players.

And then there’s this argument about rotation of players. We might need to consider that. There are plenty of Tests coming up for India this year. So, they might need to travel with a larger squad. Carry two or three extra fast bowlers, knowing that rotation may be on the cards. If you ask the players, they’ll say “I want to play every game.” We need to encourage that, but at the same time we also need to ensure that we are not reducing their longevity.

 

On a few occasions, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said that he prefers playing other games like football and badminton over gym sessions. How important are the gym sessions? Can it be reduced by playing other games?

It’s all about the individual. You need to understand the individual. With M. S. Dhoni, you’re not gonna get much out of a gym session. You need to analyse the risks and rewards involved. We’ve changed our tactics a little bit on how to approach a gym setting. Very rarely you would find a player accessing the gym for weight programmes during a tour. Rather it will be about maintenance programmes like core stability, shoulder stability… you know, flexibility training. When you talk to Dhoni, Shaun Tait, Shane Watson, Brett Lee… even Jeff Thomson… very, very rarely do they use the gymnasium. They play other sports. Thomson is a surfer and a swimmer, Dhoni plays football, Tait plays Australian Rules football and his gym work is to run up and down and do pull-ups and push-ups. You see a lot of players being smart about doing functional-training, sport-specific training than lifting heavy weights in the gym.

Another question on Dhoni… you’ve worked with him during his early years. Have you seen him practise any technique that helps him to be so calm on the field?

With M. S. Dhoni, that’s how he is. That’s his nature, you know. And, he’s very controlled, very disciplined. He’s got a good work ethic, a different work ethic. Like you said, you won’t see him doing much gym work, but he does other types of training on the field to gain necessary skills and strengths. But yeah, I think he understood early on that to be respected as a leader, you’ve to be very controlled and calm. He has all the leadership qualities. He’s cool and calm as a person and that enables him to make cool, calm decisions on the field.

In your time, even Sachin Tendulkar faced quite a few serious injuries. How did he cope with it?

I think he’s a super professional, you know. Sachin’s an absolute perfectionist. I’ve found a lot of times that it was more difficult to hold him back than to push him because he always wanted to do extra. He always wanted to get better at what he was doing… in terms of dealing with injuries or technique. And, he understood that injuries were part of the game, especially for the duration he played the game — 24 years. He ensured that he didn’t come back from an injury too early. He could’ve played in the West Indies tour of 2006. But he said, ‘No, I will give it some more time.’

Sachin would always ask a lot of questions. If you said something to him, he wouldn’t just take it. He would ask, ‘Why?’ He always wanted to understand what was happening.

What’s your memorable moment with the Indian team?

The period with the Indian cricket team made me a completely different person. If I have my chance again, I would do it very differently because we’ve all grown and become more experienced.

I always say that we learn more out of failures than success. If you look back at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, that was a low point for all of us. But if you look beyond that, we came away from that experience as very different people in the way we thought about the game, the way we thought about ourselves. We regrouped well and succeeded in the 2007 tour of England and then at the World Twenty20.

One thing that Rahul Dravid always tells the junior squad — and I respect him for that — is that it’s not about the results, but how you get to the result and what you learn along the way.

How would the team relax in the dressing room?

Everybody has a different way of relaxing. For some people, it’s going for a movie, for some, it’s reading, for others it’s going to the bar.... Whatever allows you to focus 100% on the day of the game, that’s what you should encourage. The best coaches are the best man-managers. Technically, at this level, they’re all pretty similar. It all comes down to managing the mental state of an individual at a particular stage of the game.

Who were the ones who lightened the dressing room? Can you recall a funny incident?

There were some really funny people. Viru (Virender Sehwag) was one of the funniest guys. He had a very dry sense of humour. Sachin in his own way. He had another side which was very cheeky. Definitely, Yuvraj. And the other guys, Nehra, Harbhajan, they always liked a good laugh. They all knew each other and their boundaries very well.

After working with world class athletes, you are now involved with children. Do you find this more challenging?

It’s more challenging working with kids and introducing them to physical activities and a change in the mindset. Working with the national team, the main problem was dealing with injuries and fitness. And we identified that the problem was starting with the younger age-groups. So getting involved with children was the natural progression.

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