Fitness is the KEY

K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR

The King and Gloster method to make the fitness camp interesting. Ajit Agarkar and Rahul Dravid carry tyres, while Ashish Nehra (below) runs with an empty drum.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

DIE-HARD fans clinging onto trees and craning their necks past a high wall parallel to the leafy Cubbon Road in Bangalore is fast becoming an annual vignette in June and July. For the fans it is a heady sight past the wall as the Indian cricketers shake off their lethargy, having rested their limbs a wee-bit too long in the off-season.

It is the time of the year when days are lost between a sliver of sun and intermittent monsoon showers while the fitness and conditioning camps are back again at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and Chinnaswamy Stadium premises, past the wall that stands formidably between the fans and their `Cricketing Gods'.

The latest series of camps commenced here on June 27, ahead of a packed schedule that awaits the Indian team. India is set to open its season with the Tri Series in Sri Lanka in July.

First off the blocks was the fast bowlers' conditioning camp where 15 medium pacers, from the experienced Zaheer Khan to rookies such as Jesuraj and Sreeshanth, flexed their sinews and bent their backs. "The major issue is the fitness of fast bowlers. Obviously, there will be injuries from time to time but our objective is to minimise the recurrence of such injuries and prepare the guys for the schedule ahead," said trainer Gregory King on the opening day of the camp.

Master batsman at work

King and physio John Gloster quickly got down to the task of assessing the fitness levels of the speedsters. Skinfolds, endurance tests and other yardsticks were employed while the fast bowlers were closeted inside the NCA. Interestingly, fitness exercise this time was not confined to pumping iron inside the gym. King and Gloster took into account cricket skills too as the bowlers were put through their paces at the nets.

Rahul Dravid squared up to a medley of fast bowlers, playing some crisp strokes with a broad blade. However, there were occasions when Joginder Sharma and Gagandeep Singh beat his bat. Those were the moments when the two fast bowlers gained that extra self-confidence. "It adds to our confidence when we manage to beat a great batsman like Dravid," said Joginder.

Virender Sehwag too landed early in Bangalore and was his usual merry self at the nets. "I need to work on my fitness and I have to reduce my weight," he said.

Rahul Dravid (left) and Hemang Badani walk on chairs in a team game at the conditioning camp in Bangalore.-AP

Sehwag, who had kicked up a storm with his remarks on openers in an earlier camp, was very restrained and diplomatic while interacting with the media this time.

Some food for thought

`Fitness' was the most discussed word in the corridors of the NCA. Kudos to King that he did not make fitness a `boring-routine'. He judiciously mixed and matched the players' training schedules. A few sunny mornings were spent playing volleyball and at times rugby too, while yoga cooled down the heat generated by shuttle runs.

Virender Sehwag has a word with Zaheer Khan (right) at the conditioning camp. Mohammed Kaif (below) limbers up with a game of volleyball.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

"It is tough at times because we reach here in the morning, work hard and get back to the hotel and then immediately return for the afternoon sessions. But we are coming back from our off-season and we need to work hard. Yoga too is a big help because often our bodies are sore and yoga helps to relax the muscles, thanks to its stretching exercises," Hemang Badani said.

Renowned kinesiologist Dr. Charles Krebs spent a few days with the fast bowlers to kindle their intellect. Krebs, who focuses on the link between the mind and body movements, had his sessions with the seamers and studied their muscle responses and the cause of injuries. According to Krebs, the study of muscle response helps to analyse injury-related problems better.

Physio Gloster acknowledged Krebs' contribution. "He spoke of the need for cricketers to be balanced athletes. If you are balanced then the risk of injury is reduced," Gloster said.

The legend arrives

Dennis Lillee took a day off from his busy stint at Chennai's MRF Pace Foundation and flew into Bangalore. The former Australian fast bowler's looming presence at the KSCA (B) Ground acted as a stimulus as the fast bowlers had a stint at the nets in the afternoon sun. Later, at a press conference, flanked by his erstwhile skipper and friend Chappell, Lillee said, "It is important that the fast bowlers have their actions in good shape, so that they bowl well and also minimise the risk of injury." The line of thought was endorsed by Chappell, MRF Pace Foundation chief coach T.A. Sekar and Javagal Srinath.

More fun and games

As the fast bowlers rested their weary limbs for a day, another batch of players, including Mohammed Kaif, landed in Bangalore for the probables camp, which commenced on July 5. The new players went through the grind of fitness assessments and soon combined with the fast bowlers and had their quota of gym sessions, fielding drills and nets.

A touch of madness also seemed to descend on a sunny morning as Ashish Nehra ran around the KSCA (B) Ground, holding a huge empty drum above his head. It was not a case of a player losing his bearings but it was all about new games devised by King and Gloster to break the daily routine while enhancing the fitness levels of the players. Zaheer Khan ran, dragging a wooden plank attached to him with ropes while the players split into groups and wearing different jerseys competed hard through different games and still nursed their smiles.

Meanwhile, Zaheer's fitness came in for copious praise from former physio Andrew Leipus, who was at the NCA as a consultant.