Are cricketers being overworked?

MODERN day cricket has been dominated by talks of fitness. How fit does a cricketer need to be? Does he, for example, require to be as fit as a soccer player?

Let's get this straight at the beginning. A cricketer does not have to be a fitness freak, who spends more time in attempting to get his body into shape than at the nets where he can hone his skills.

Cricket is essentially a 'skills' game. A player has to be fit enough to perform a given job on the field without getting tired. However, even after the induction of modern training methods, there have been times, when the Indians have appeared flat and disoriented on the field.

Are they being overworked by the physio and the fitness trainer? It is important to understand here that the Indians are not as strong physically as the Australians, the South Africans, and most of the West Indians, whose bodies can withstand vigorous training.

Put the Indians through a similar grind and at some point they are bound to break down. This is the harsh reality of the situation.

An Australian, given his physical attributes, which is hereditary, of course, runs faster, and throws harder. Nine out of ten times, an Australian will beat an Indian on speed.

The strengths of an Indian cricketer are different. He has more flexibility and possesses supple fingers and wrists. This explains an array of wristy shot-makers and wonderful spinners from India. We can also withstand the heat better, being brought up under hot and humid weather.

We should play to our advantages, instead we appear to be falling into a trap while attempting to ape the foreigners. It is a fact that there have been more breakdowns and injury-related problems in the Indian side after the appointment of a foreign physio.

The list of Indian cricketers laid low by injuries is endless... Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Dravid, Srinath, Kumble, Zaheer, Nehra. I could go on.

The simple question is are the cricketers being overworked? How come there are so many batsmen in the injury list. One can understand pacemen breaking down, not the batsmen.

The other day, the legendary Gary Sobers came on the air during one of the breaks during the Barbados Test and the point he made about fitness was along similar lines.

One could say that the cricketers have to stay fit given the punishing schedules these days; there is hardly a break between series and tournaments. On occasions, it's almost non-stop cricket.

It can also be argued that since there are so many games, the players are bound to be match-fit anyway. Why make them go through the rigorous drills then?

I will come to some specific cases here. Kapil Dev knew nothing about the modern training methods. But show me one Indian cricketer who could match him in fitness.

In an enduring, rewarding career, this great cricketer bowled over after over, often under searing heat, and just imagine how much effort he would have had to put in. Not once, except perhaps, during the last phase of his career, did he complain of even niggles!

This amazing man went on and on. Not just sending down incisive fast medium stuff but also batting with dash and flair and fielding impeccably.

If anyone told me that Kapil did not play as many matches as the current crop of pacemen, I would dismiss it as a load of rubbish. In fact, Kapil took a heavier workload, sent down more overs than any of the present day bowlers. It is a fact too that India played a lot more Test matches from the late 70s, till the end of the 80s.

Sunil Gavaskar was not a great athlete, but could anyone match him in cricketing fitness? He could bat for hours together, had astonishing powers of concentration, and possessed the kind of mental strength that could seldom be matched.

Gavaskar, no mug on the field either, was an extremely efficient catcher in the slip cordon. He had what it took to excel in his specialist job and held his own in the other departments. Nobody could complain.

Both Gavaskar and Kapil hardly missed a match due to fitness related problems and even the occasional game in which the former could not compete was only due to broken bones. Not to forget Gundappa Viswanath, who might not have appeared the fittest cricketer around, but compares rather favourably with some of the current batting stars.

In fact, the Indian team that triumphed in the '83 World Cup and the '85 World Cricket Championship has to be counted as the finest Indian fielding side ever.

Almost all of us were good fielders with strong throwing arms. In '83, Kapil, Binny, Madan Lal, Yashpal Sharma, and yours truly could all move swiftly on the field, and the others like Kirti and Mohinder were more than adequate too.

For the WCC championship, we had the gifted L. Sivaramakrishnan, who was a brilliant all-round fielder. Despite the countless hours spent in training, show me one fielder in the Indian team touring the Caribbean, who can be called brilliant. Safe yes. Brilliant, surely not.

In contrast, the Indian side of the early and mid 80s had outstanding fielders. You can check this up. I am not writing this because I played in that era.

And all we ever did was simple drills before a game. We had no physio or a fitness trainer. All we had was the good old Jimmy Amarnath, who would conduct our routine for not more than 25 minutes before the day's play.

We got our limbs loosened for the day ahead, and, importantly, we were fresh when we went in to play. In contrast, some of the Indian cricketers appear jaded even before they enter the ground. Their rigorous fitness routines, could actually be sapping them of their strength.

What happens is when the body becomes tired, the mind loses its sharpness, and quickness of the mind in reacting to the different situations is the key to success really.

Fitness is vital. However, not beyond a particular level. One doesn't have to be a 'fitness maniac' to dish out good cricket. I would like to repeat here that cricket is a game of skills and mental strength. One doesn't have to be a 'Superman!.'

In fact the 'Supermen' of the cricketing world invariably end up in hospital!