Players need four-eight weeks build-up before first match: India S&C coach

Nick Webb, India’s Strength & Conditioning coach, talks about overseeing players’ nutrition plans, specific exercises for individuals, and more.

In this picture taken on September 17, 2019, Nick Webb (left) converses with Cheteshwar Pujara during practice at the JCA stadium in Ranchi, ahead of the third India-South Africa Test. Webb, the physioptherapists and the medical staff have come up with a three-stage plan for the Indian players to get them ready after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to international and domestic cricket around the world. Such a lull in on-field activity might lead to a drop-off in the fitness levels of the players, making the task of monitoring their training schedule all the more challenging.

Sportstar caught up with Team India’s Strength & Conditioning (S&C) coach, Nick Webb, who spoke about overseeing the players' nutrition plans during the lockdown, specific exercises for bowlers and batsmen and the importance of mental health.

Q. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the suspension of international cricket across the globe. How have you been monitoring the physical and mental attributes of the players?

A. Between myself and the NCA (National Cricket Academy) strength-and-conditioning staff, we have a collaborative reporting system up and running to ensure all players have contact throughout the week, which covers all things regarding their training routine, what’s gone well and any modifications needed.

In terms of mental health and physical attributes, I think that when you confine someone to their house [for] 24 hours a day, there is always the potential that mental health is affected. Everyone has the potential to respond differently. There certainly will be some anxiety around the virus now and as the restrictions are slowly released. It’s even more crucial from a mental health point of view that we ensure the players are OK throughout the lockdown and following the release of restrictions. They are people first and cricketers second, and their health is our No. 1 priority. This is also the reason for regular contact throughout the week.

What about nutrition in particular? Have you suggested a specific diet already, and how do you keep a tab on the players’ cheat days?

Some of the guys are on individual nutrition plans. [For] other guys, it’s more of an educational focus and educating them on how to fuel their body and adapt their food requirements based on the training demands while in lockdown.

I am not one to hound players regarding “cheat days or meals.” All of the players are pretty health conscious and it wouldn’t be often they have “cheat meals” as they are conscious of what their body-fat levels are and their effects on performance. Not everyone is perfect and that’s OK... It’s about guiding and educating them as we move forward. I think it’s actually healthy to have a “cheat meal” as we do not want to create a negative association with food. It’s OK to indulge every now and then as it keeps you sane. Most of our guys earn their cheat meals through training as well, which offsets it.

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Are there tailored drills for batsmen and bowlers? For example, is someone like Yuzvendra Chahal on a different routine from a fast bowler like Jasprit Bumrah?

Yes, every player is on a different and individualised plan. This is also specific to the facilities and equipment available to them while in lockdown. Training would be even more specific if everyone had his usual training equipment available.

Pace bowlers have far different physical demands placed on them during matches compared to spinners and batsmen, so it makes sense to adapt the focus and priorities based on their roles and individual abilities. There is certainly a different framework I consider when prescribing exercises and drills for fast bowlers compared to the batsman.

For example, bowlers need to be strong enough to be able to absorb approximately eight times their body weight through their front leg on impact; there are training methods for this that we can focus on. Batsmen require them to train with more of a focus on rotational power; there are different techniques and considerations that we make for this. Everyone is different, but we take many variables into consideration when prescribing programmes.

When there was a lockout in the NBA for 161 days in 2011, there was a spike in injuries when the athletes returned. Many were simply not match-fit on their return. Is that a genuine concern in this case?

Yes, of course. I think there is always going to be a higher risk of injury if you do not have adequate build-up time following any sort of lockout of matchplay. Particularly with pace bowlers, due to the nature of their match demands. These guys need an adequate, accumulated bowling load to be able to tolerate not only international match intensity and volume but also to be able to back up matches throughout an extended series.

Obviously, the more matches you play, you get in a rhythm and experience the intensity and pressures that are hard to replicate in training. However, we can certainly train in ways that match the demands of the games. We have utilised sports science technology such as GPS to understand these demands, which can guide how we can enhance the training environment and prepare them for the demands.

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Once the players return to full-fledged training, is there a realistic time frame for how long it will take them to be match-fit?

[That’s] a good question and I think it’s important that we get this time frame right. As mentioned in your other question, we increase the risk of soft-tissue injury if this time frame is not long enough for adequate build-up. Between our team physiotherapists, medical staff and I, we have devised a three-stage plan which we believe is in the best interest of the player’s health, wellness and performance once the pandemic restrictions are eased. Obviously, there is a lot that goes into planning future tours and tournaments with many stakeholders to consider. However, we believe between four and eight weeks’ build-up before the first match, depending on the format to be played, is a safe time frame.

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