Nick Webb: All about achieving a collective goal

Nick Webb who has stepped down as India’s strength and conditioning coach after the T20 World Cup in the UAE touched upon a range of subjects pertaining to his time with the Indian team.

RANCHI, JHARKHAND, 17/09/2019: Indian player Cheteshwar Pujara with Nick Webb, strength and conditioning coach during the practice session ahead of the third cricket test match between India and South Africa at JACA International stadium in Ranchi on October 17, 2019. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   -  The Hindu

Nick Webb stepped down as India’s strength and conditioning coach after the T20 World Cup in the UAE. Webb had been with the team since 2019, taking over from Shankar Basu, whose stint ended after the 50-over World Cup that year.

During Webb’s tenure, India qualified for the inaugural World Test Championship final against New Zealand and also registered a famous overseas series win in Australia, as well as victories at Lord’s and the Oval during the recent tour of England.

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In this interview with Sportstar, Webb touched upon a range of subjects pertaining to his time with the Indian team.

If you could begin by giving us an idea about India’s fast bowlers... How are they different in terms of fitness and body type? And what did you have to work on with each one of them?

If you look at all of the team’s fast bowlers, they are all different in their own way. No pace bowler and individual is the same both technically and physically. As part of our role, we must understand the fundamental principles and biomechanics of pace bowling in order to support each bowler through specific strength and conditioning programs.

By understanding each bowler’s individual profile involving various markers that we monitor (examples of factors and metrics we consider are bowling technique, run-up speeds and GPS metrics, bowling workload data, injury history, strength & power status, body composition, medical & therapy feedback to name a few), in conjunction with understanding how they interact (or has the potential to interact) with one another at any given time throughout the year is crucial in allowing myself and the medical team to manage them effectively. Most importantly, between myself and the medical and therapy guys working in the team, we make sure we get alongside the guys and chat with them on how they feel they’re going. Feedback directly from the players and constructive discussions as a group is an important part of the process.

These guys, especially all-format bowlers, go through a heap of physical and mental stress throughout the year due to the number of games they play — especially during an extended multi-format tour. The guys can cover over 40km in a Test match, inclusive of intermittent spells of bowling and accelerations/sprints throughout a 6 hour + day. If they happen to contribute significantly with the bat as well then this further increases their workload. The challenge when playing so much cricket year-round is always about ensuring that we find a balance between physical training and recovery during and between matches as both can impact on-field performance and injury risk.

Jasprit Bumrah   -  AFP

 

Jasprit Bumrah: His action works for him. He hits on average 21km/h in his run-up which is on the lower end for a pace bowler but generates his speed through an extremely braced front leg, hyper-extended bowling arm, and overall physical strength to handle the position he gets his body in while efficiently transferring force from front foot to ball release.

We ensure he gets a good amount of strength training prior to long tours or we utilise the T20 series as an opportunity to increase his strength training. When there is a gap in the tours schedule, we schedule in a physical training block to complete. Strength maintenance on tour is key for his management. Being an all-format fast bowler it’s been important that he is managed well and given enough time throughout the year away from match play to solely focus on his physical priorities and psychological recuperation — this will ensure his longevity across formats.

Mohammed Shami   -  Getty Images

 

Mohammed Shami: An experienced campaigner and understands what he needs. Shami runs in hard and we have really honed in what his physical preparation looks like. Regular strength training is key for him to be able to support his bowling. It’s quite simple with Shami…bowl, eat, recovery & sleep, strength train (determined by playing schedule), repeat. He gets a lot of his conditioning by nature of just bowling (on average he runs in at 24km/h). Anything else for him is energy-wasted. There are certain physical and medical markers we monitor for him that support our decision-making throughout a series/tour.

Ishant Sharma   -  AFP

 

Ishant Sharma: A 100-Test match Indian fast bowler. Sit back and take that in while contemplating just what his body has gone through to reach that milestone. Having played so much cricket at the highest level you learn a lot about how your body responds to stress and how to care for it. When you talk to Ishant he knows exactly what he needs… my job is to lead the process in what he needs, determine at what dosage based on his match workload, his injury history, and time (days) between matches. With Ishant, it’s a collaborative process which is often the case with senior/experienced players.

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What we did for Ishant had to always relate back to his bowling rhythm, bowling intensity, and his ability to back up multiple Test matches. Examples:

1. Routinely completed “wicket” runs through his run-up using cones or hurdles which focused on his running mechanics.

2. We completed conditioning/fitness sessions focusing on what we termed “bowling density” after his bowling practice. He ran through his usual run-up (and other various distances) running toward the crease without actually bowling the ball. We reduced the time he had between efforts to less than what he would get between balls in a match — this forcing him to jog back. For an experienced Test player, this helped his ability to cope with extended and multiple spells.

3. Heavy strength sessions to support the heap of force that goes through his body every time he bowls — up to 12 x his body weight in force each time

Mohammed Siraj   -  The Hindu

 

Mohammed Siraj: An excellent young pace bowler and is still learning how to best prepare himself for all formats of the game. He has played a part in some big international series and a lot of cricket in the last 12 months which has provided him with some crucial learning experiences in terms of the demands of international cricket and how he must care for his body. Siraj has a big future within Team India across multiple formats and a focus was to find his optimal strength and conditioning routine and to educate him on how to best prepare physically that works for him during and between matches. We were more direct in terms of what his days looked like, we aimed to do the basics extremely well but collaborated in a way to ensure he was learning through the process as well — the short to medium-term goal for Siraj is self-sufficiency and consistency in routine throughout a series.

As you can see, the approach for each fast bowler is vastly different and depends on the individual, context, and where they are at on their physical performance journey.

What is the key, in terms of the body, to hitting big sixes? How do Hardik Pandya and K. L. Rahul hit the ball such a long way? Is core strength the main thing?

Yes, core strength contributes but it’s not as simple as that nor is it the determining factor. Power hitting is multifactorial and a combination of things can contribute to hitting the ball into the stands. Factors such as 1) timing of the ball (picking up release speed, line, length, , 2) hitting biomechanics (getting into the right positions), 3) grip strength, 4) hand speed, 5) ability to produce and transfer force from your feet to the bat as quickly as possible, 6) ability to powerfully rotate through hips and or thoracic spine, 7) balance in stance, 8) ability to anticipate bowlers plan, etc.

You can possibly categorise these contributing factors into three:

1. Physical ability: to support power-hitting (strength, mobility, rotational power, hand/wrist speed, etc)

2. Technical ability: Getting into the most optimal and efficient power positions to leverage your physical ability in order to clear the rope

3. Decision-making: Ability to pick up, perceive, anticipate, take in information and respond appropriately and swiftly. This takes time, experience, and targeted practice

We, as strength and conditioning and performance coaches, need to understand the theory and practical application of all contributing factors of power hitting. This way we know how to assess and practically implement programs to support how players want to play their game — either hit it into the stands, hit/time the ball firmer, or in a worst-case scenario “miss-hit” the ball harder. We don’t do this in isolation but in conjunction with the skills coaches.

Hardik Pandya's bowling fitness was a big concern heading into the T20 World Cup. Was there pressure to get him ready to bowl? What kind of work went into monitoring and ensuring his overall fitness?

Any team will want Hardik Pandya to play that all-rounder role and I’m certain this would have been the ideal situation. We were very practical with Hardik’s preparation in the T20 WC and were clear regarding the plan once we were on the ground in Dubai. We wanted to give Hardik every chance to bowl at the T20 World Cup. Our priority was to assess him post-IPL and develop a safe and practical bowling plan to get him bowling again as soon as possible. We took a very holistic and practical approach with the intention to get him contributing 2-3 overs in a match with minimal symptoms. However, we didn’t want the occasion to get the better of the plan and put him at further risk.

Did you and the BCCI have a channel of communication with all the IPL teams to better monitor the fitness of the 15 World Cup guys in particular? And what kind of metrics did you keep tabs on?

Yes, we do. Team India has no jurisdiction to determine how IPL franchises manage and care for the players during the tournament and while the players are in the franchises’ care. The monitoring practices we have in place during IPL are solely based on our relationships and open lines of communication between franchise medical and physical staff. We all want what’s best for the player, and clear, open communication is an important part of ensuring we all can care for them effectively when they are in our team environments. We monitor bowling loads and receive check-in (mid-IPL) and handover (post-IPL) medical and physical information from the franchise staff so that we have a clear indication of their physical and medical status once they leave their franchises. Once they are in our care, we then assess and act on anything that is required post IPL.

That 2020-21 tour of Australia and the win Down Under was quite something. Especially given the sheer number of injuries and fitness concerns that were there. Can you describe the challenges and your experience of being on that trip, with an example if possible?

It was certainly a great way to end a very tough tour Down Under. To put things into perspective, the guys were in lockdown for 6-7 months of 2020 and some had limited access to facilities and equipment to train during this time. Some went straight out of lockdown in India, having not set foot on a pitch, to enter the IPL bubble within a matter of days. Between the IPL franchise and Team India staff, we had to ensure a lot of the guys progressively built up their physical and skill load safely. Following the IPL, we travelled with 30+ players to Australia knowing we had to make sure they prepared well enough and consistently enough to last the all-format tour. Knowing the players had endured a lengthy lockdown, and then straight into the IPL bubble restrictions and the bubble environment in Australia, this was going to be a big challenge. On review and reflection, we learned a lot, and we know we got some things wrong but we also got quite a few things right. The Australian tour was essentially a catalyst for how we approached the next 11 months because even until now, the team operates under quarantine and bio-bubble restrictions. We learned a lot about how to optimally exit mandatory quarantine periods and manage players physically within bio-bubble environments. We had to plan, adapt and learn quickly because bio-bubble environments were here to stay.

Lastly, what is your most cherished moment/memory of working with this Indian team?

There are so many cherished moments and memories. From an outcome perspective, the Australian series win and breaching the Gabba is up there. What the team went through to get there and to show that character on the final day of the tour summed up the group's unity and mentality.

Secondly, the win at Lord’s during this year’s away Test series against England. I vividly remember as soon as we got that last wicket, all of us coaches were jumping around on the balcony. I got too excited and lifted Bharat Arun into the air while hugging him and stood on his Oakley sunglasses. We just laughed and put our arms around each other — a funny but fond memory.

Lastly, I just think the entire journey we went through as a team over the last 2+ years will stick with me. From the challenges of COVID-19 and how we overcame them, to the bond and friendships that were made along the way are things I will cherish. For me, it’s about the journey and the process we go through together to achieve a collective goal — to see the guys expressing themselves out on the field and achieving some historical series wins along the way has been fantastic.