Former Team India trainer Shanker Basu breaks silence on Indian cricket fitness community's nepotism charge

Shanker Basu, a former trainer of the Indian men's cricket team, has broken his silence in an exclusive chat with Sportstar after letting allegations of nepotism against him swirl around for a week.

Basu is credited with ushering in a culture of hard work that resulted in India's pace attack sustaining excellence across all formats.   -  GETTY IMAGES

A section of Indian cricket's fitness community is gunning for one of its top names, Shanker Basu, leading to what-to-do-next meetings among the accusers, and stony silence from their target.

Basu, a former trainer of the Indian men's cricket team, however, has broken his silence in an exclusive chat with Sportstar after letting allegations of nepotism against him swirl around for a week.

A group of trainers affiliated to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has accused Basu of throwing his weight around to get his favourites appointed in the National Cricket Academy (NCA).

In a letter to the BCCI joint-secretary, Jayesh George, the group of trainers alleged that appointments in the NCA were done to favour candidates linked to a fitness centre run by Basu. The group also wrote it was time to re-analyse how seasoned BCCI-accredited trainers are treated.

A former BCCI-accredited trainer, who did not want to be named fearing reprisal, alleged that in the last two to three years, Basu has been dismissive of all theories he himself endorsed and trainers have practised for the last decade on his saying.

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"Most of the trainers in the current set-up are from the 2007-08 batch. Basu taught us and took our exams. He accredited us and now he's saying all these theories don't count," he claimed.

"Basu was out of the BCCI for a while... once he returned (in 2017), things changed. Earlier, every player had a different workout protocol, but in the last few years, even at the ZCA (Zonal Cricket Academy), Under-16 boys are made to do stuff that the senior team does.

"You can imagine how raw 16-year-olds from Assam or Kerala will be... how do you even expect them to undergo such training? They have very little understanding of fitness," he added.

A seasoned trainer, who also asked not to be named, felt most board-affiliated trainers are being humiliated. "I refuse to believe that despite being Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) Level 2 certified coaches, we can't get a job at NCA or with the zonal teams," he said.

"Those close to Basu are being preferred over people who have served in this system for more than 10 years. They invite us to a seminar and expect us — some more than 50 years old — to do deadlifts with 125 kg and other heavy training and then based on the result, they disqualify us. That's not done.

"A lot of us have worked with first-class teams for three to five years; if we were that bad, why would they bother renewing our contracts?" he asked.

"During the appointments in the NCA, Basu had recused himself and was replaced by Ranadeep Moitra, owner of Endorphins Gym in Kolkata, but Basu was very much present in the prelims when they were shortlisting candidates. Basu just leaks the questions to those he wants to recruit. It's disgusting," the trainer alleged.

"You go and speak to Basu and he says, 'My typist has done today's Level 2 course'... Then why don't you just hire your typist? Basu has even told some of us that we can never pass the (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists — CSCS) certification course. That's not the way to treat someone. When the BCCI has established that a trainer with either CSCS or ASCA certification is an eligible candidate, then this kind of discrimination is not justified," he added.

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BASU HITS BACK

Basu refuted all the allegations. "In 2019, they had an interview for trainers. I'm telling you I'm the founder of Primal Patterns and I teach. That's my primary job and if those who have studied under me are very good, I can't do anything about it. So if people I have taught get selected, then one should question the panel and the process, and not me... I recused myself from the panel and even asked my son to not apply for the job," he said.

Basu, who is credited with ushering in a culture of hard work that resulted in India's pace attack sustaining excellence across all formats, added, "These courses, the CSCS, the ASCA, and UKSCA (United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association) have become popular in the last 10 years... I don't certify people, I only help them study and nobody can stop me from doing that. My objective is to ensure that the whole S&C (Strength and Conditioning) community is a well educated one... and the appointments in the board are not my responsibility. I am happy to be a coach all my life."

Asked about the intricacies of a trainer's role in the context of the raging row, another former Team India trainer, Ramji Srinivasan, said experience should be given more weight over theoretical prowess. "I know people who have A to Z degrees but are still not able to bridge the gap between theory and practice. The practical assessment is 80-90 per cent of the job."

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NOT THE FIRST MURMURS

This isn't the first time such an accusation has been levelled against Basu. He found himself in hot water two years ago when Sohum Desai was appointed as a trainer at the NCA.

Desai was part of Basu's fitness centre. His recruitment saw then BCCI treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry question the process and it was found that Desai had passed the test for which Basu had set the question paper.

Recalling the controversy, a former BCCI official said, "Apparently, while he (Desai) had not appeared for the NCA accreditation course, he was shown as one of the toppers.

"There was a lot of discussion about it in the CoA meeting, it's there in the minutes. The board-affiliated trainers are right in making their grievances known. Even I found it strange that a gym instructor was allowed to be a part of the interview process."

Basu said the controversy over Desai's appointment was a case of mistaken identity. "On record, I was not a part of Primal Patterns during my tenure with the Indian team. You can check the company records. In 2016, I quit my job with Team India. At that time, Anand Date had taken over from me.

"When the team went for the Champions Trophy in 2017, it was the team management's wish that I come back into the fold. So I said, 'I'll come back for this tour'. That was the time when appointments weren't made through interviews; interviews started only this year. It was a brief comeback,” he said.

"Anurag Thakur (former BCCI president) wanted me to bring standardisation and uniformity in the team. How will that come? Only if you've two people with the same mindset. I wanted one assistant. Soham Desai had interned with me: one of the brightest guys I've met and he is not related to me. He is from Surat and I am from Chennai," Basu added.

"At that point, M.V. Sridhar (who died in October 2017) was the general manager (cricket operations)... He went for a board meeting and in that meeting, someone questioned the appointment of Soham. I had requested for two trainers, one Soham and another individual who passed the SSSM (Sports Science Sports Medicine) course. (One) Adrian passed the exam but didn't join... Mr. Sridhar mistook Soham for Adrian and said, 'He only topped the exam'. It was a misquote from Sridhar.

"I had one guy at NCA who understood my method. Together with Soham, we did some fantastic work and you can see the change in the fitness of the team yourself. Now, if there was some conflict, the board would have dealt with it. The Indian team had Soham for the interim period before Nick Webb joined," he added.