On-field training crucial

Indian players at a training camp in Bangalore before their departure to Sri Lanka for the Compaq Cup.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The training methods adopted by India in the last decade have been directed towards prevention of injuries but ironically, the incidence of injuries has been on the rise.

India’s campaign in the Champions Trophy was disappointing no doubt. But it has also given a lot to think about and the time has come to sort things out. It was fairly obvious that the absence of key players such as Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan was felt badly and the biggest challenge for teams and players in international cricket is prevention of injuries.

There is hardly anything one can do if a cricketer sustains an impact or bone injury but injuries related to strain or lack of fitness necessitates a look at the training programme that players adhere to. Before going any further, one needs to realise that fitness is something that ensures a cricketer’s efficacy is not diminished on the field. Similarly, it is easier for a talented cricketer to enhance his fitness than a fit cricketer to enhance his cricketing skills.

The training methods adopted in the last decade have been directed towards prevention of injuries, but ironically, the incidence of injuries has been on the rise. A lot of time and effort is put into ensuring the enhancement of fitness levels and while this initiative is commendable, one needs to pause and analyse if the methods adopted are suitable for the Indians.

It is rather strange that current day dossiers touch upon the relation between sex and performance enhancement but hardly any worthwhile relation is sought between the Indian physical structure and the impact of modern methods of training on it.

I have been a witness to different methods of training suggested to the current day cricketers, and the biggest drawback is that the approach and the training methods fluctuate as much and as frequently as the points in a stock exchange. However, the youngsters are made to go through the regimen regardless of the differences in their physical structure. The reason for this is our unshakable belief that the Australians and South Africans are doing well only because of their fitness levels. This belief led the administrators to bring in trainers from South Africa and Australia, and all they did was to try to demonstrate that they were good at their jobs by making the players slog even if it was irrelevant or ill-timed in relation to the season.

I am not one to go back in time or compare cricketers of different eras, but the biggest of achievers in the sport did not put in as many hours of training as the modern day cricketers. Instead they spent more hours in perfecting their technical/cricketing skills. For instance, has anyone ever seen Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar missing a single or struggling on the field? Gavaskar had his own method of staying fit. Same is the case with Tendulkar.

I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that Gavaskar hardly pumped iron. But you have players like R. P. Singh, for instance, who does all that is there to be done in a gymnasium but is not really flexible and agile. There is no doubt that R. P. Singh can and will hopefully improve, but the point I am trying to make is that today’s cricketers are more keen on pumping iron than doing field training.

By field training, I mean working on cricketing skills and enhancing speed, agility and endurance in the open field. I hasten to add that all the components are fitted into a training programme by the trainers but unfortunately, the players ignore on-field training.

The likes of Wasim Akram, even today, talk about the importance of on-field training and the benefit one derives from it. Of course, Akram had his share of injuries, but one must remember that it had a lot to do with his excessive workload as he played county cricket regularly apart from international cricket.

I see the younger lot struggle in terms of flexibility and this is a result of excessive weight training according to some experts in the field. The core strength of the Indians has been flexibility and tragically that has been sacrificed in the quest for power. Hopefully, Ramji Srinivasan, the new trainer of the Indian team, will revise the training programme in order to not only enhance the fitness levels of the players but also prevent injuries. I have worked with him, and I know for sure that he understands the needs of the individuals and also the demands of the sport.

Before Ramji, Indian cricket was in the hands of foreign trainers at all levels. And I have no doubt in stating that the shift in favour of training as against enhancing cricketing skills has stunted the development of many cricketers. If this is not reason enough for getting rid of the much hyped Aussie/South African training methods, nothing else is.

To substantiate my view, Sehwag’s shoulder injury was a result of a diving stop, and while that endorses his commitment, I should say better athleticism reduces the need to dive to stop the ball. I have seen outstanding fielders like Kapil Dev, Azharuddin and Robin Singh cover the ground with their agility and athleticism. Incidentally, all of them were practitioners of on-field training though they might have taken up weight training in their mid or late 30s.