Batsmen too need breaks

Published : Jul 28, 2001 00:00 IST

THAT bowlers need breaks to rest their limbs and return to battle refreshed is quite acceptable. The sheer physical strain of daily training, travelling and playing drains them, which makes it impossible to carry on - without running the risk of a serious breakdown.

The batsmen also need similar consideration. They don't bowl 30 overs in sapping heat, don't spend endless hours in the gym to repair damaged shoulders, don't undergo knee surgeries or attend to stress fractures. But considering the non-stop pace of cricket they too need to slow down and take breaks to avoid burnout. This will help top players perform at the top level.

At one level it is a simple matter of physical strain causing injuries. The human body, however carefully prepared, is not a machine, it develops snags because it does not carry a performance or part replacement guarantee from the manufacturer. Lara is struggling with a hamstring strain for a few seasons, Steve Waugh has groin trouble, Atherton suffers from a bad back, so does Saeed Anwar.

More than physical burnout, mental fatigue arising from relentless competition is a bigger problem. International cricket is exceedingly intense, there is huge pressure. Players tend to take this in their stride, they teach themselves to fight nerves, this is part of the game. Many actually enjoy this combat, get charged by adverse conditions and perform best when the challenge is greater. But even then, ultimately, persistent strain wears them down, pressure hurts. When this happens it is best to take a break, ease off for a while and return only when ready.

This, however, is not simple because a calculated short separation can get converted into permanent divorce. In team games like cricket success depends on keeping competition out and staying a step ahead of others fighting for the same slot in the batting order. Modern sport is not a underground metro where one displays sound upbringing by offering his seat to someone else. The idea here is not to vacate till evicted, make way and you could be gone forever. If the guy who is filling in, because you chose to holiday in Goa, scores a hundred you might be forced to spend more time on the beach! So, the basic lesson: Show no mercy, no emotion. Be utterly selfish. In this brutal game there is no place for favours.

As in anything else in life, there is also the issue of economics. A break, whether deliberate or forced, has a financial angle because one gets paid for playing, not for resting or recharging batteries. Absence is a grave sin, it causes red marks in the balance sheet. Endorsements and commercial commitments are of vital importance, any chartered accountant will advice firmly that any break from the game is financially disastrous.

But if a break is forced, as for Sachin, there is little one can do but rest. The master loves to play, his thirst for cricket - and scoring runs - is seemingly unquenchable but injuries caused by wear and tear raise certain questions: Would it be prudent to preserve Sachin and use him only on important occasions? Why use a trump card all the time?

This idea has obvious flaws. Sachin is more than an ace, KBC has only three lifelines for contestants whereas Sachin is Indian cricket's lifelong lifeline - whenever in trouble just turn to him. But rationing his appearances and letting him loose selectively on others is unworkable. Even by utilising his skills regularly the Indian team's record is dismal. What would be our fate without him?

Sachin's pullout impacts the Lankan series, interest diminishes and so does the quality of cricket. Sachin lends class to the proceedings, he has an aura that attracts fans and excites sponsors. Cricket at a basic level is a simple contest between bat and ball, it is only when skilled performers like Sachin step on the field that action becomes riveting. Cricket is entertainment, it is drama, it is a platform for accomplished artists to perform and parade their gifts.

Forget for a moment about India winning or losing, fact of the matter is without Sachin it is not the same. Indian cricket rides on his slim shoulders, he is the focal point of fans just as SMG and Kapil paaji were yesterday's icons. Sachin is an extraordinary talent crafted by God, not manufactured by an academy or a coach. Though only 28, he stands in the front row as cricket's elder statesman, a stunning player poised to smash most batting records.

Such astonishing success gives him colossal clout. He attracts money, enriches the Board and signs personal endorsements that contain more zeroes than Agarkar's Test record. Sachin minds his own business, prefers to maintain studied silence on sensitive topics but when he speaks (as on the contract issue) his utterances are measured and forceful. Of late he has talked about excessive cricket and the urgent need to reschedule fixtures keeping the interest of players in mind.

This isn't an academic issue, one point often missed is players are under immense pressure. Apart from the tension of on-field performance, stars have to contend with the enormous expectations of fans which are impossible to meet, and the position is worsened by incessant media scrutiny. Newspapers and TV networks follow cricket minutely, they chase players at every step, nothing is hidden, it is like a student writing an exam every day.

After a while all this takes a toll and weakens even a superman. Sachin has a flawless record, has kept his dignity, stayed away from scandal. Unlike other celebrities he is balanced and stable, has not felt the need to attract attention or make a statement. There is a certain serenity, poise and sturdy self-assurance about him, not dissimilar to his batting style. Bottom line: he plays straight, won't hit across the line.

Being a top achiever Sachin is a national treasure, therefore anything that bothers him is a matter of concern. We all want him to play for another decade, make millions of runs and break every existing batting record. This is possible, inshallah, provided motivation is sustained and fitness ensured.

The latter is a worry, which is why even a minor hiccup like Sachin's foot injury is a setback. To prevent psychological and physical burnout there is a case for a cutback on cricket commitments. The batsmen need a break. Just like the bowlers.

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