The fitness king

THERE are times when you give up on a dream and another begins. Passionate about the game, Gregory Allen King aspired to play for South Africa.

S. DINAKAR

THERE are times when you give up on a dream and another begins. Passionate about the game, Gregory Allen King aspired to play for South Africa.

"It is every fitness trainer's dream to work with an international side. Now it has come true," says King, who will work with the Indian cricket team. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

His hopes rose when he was picked in the Border second side, as an opening batsman. King was all set to test his skills in provincial cricket, where the contests are keenly fought.

Though never lacking in effort, King, given his run of low scores, discovered that he wasn't really cut out to be an international player. He was realistic, and soon changed tracks. "I was making 20s and 30s, but never going beyond that."

One aspect of King's cricket that had been outstanding during his time with the Border second XI was his fielding. Physically, he was exceptionally fit.

King realised that with cricket teams laying so much emphasis on fitness, he could, after all, have a career — as a trainer.

He did his honours degree in Human Movement Studies at the Rhodes University, and combined his cricket with studies.

When Border required a fitness trainer, King was ready. A job he performed with distinction for six years. "I greatly enjoyed my time with Border. We were a happy, friendly bunch, and we had some good moments together," he told The Sportstar during the MRF coaches seminar in Chennai

And when the highly regarded Adrian Le Roux decided to leave the Indian side and take up the offer with the South African team, King's long quest finally ended — "It is every fitness trainer's dream to work with an international side. Now it has come true." It had been an exceptional `Border crossing' for him too: he was now a part of one of world cricket's richest and most glamorous teams — India.

All through his career, his parents, two sisters and a brother, have encouraged him whole-heartedly. Growing up, he often skipped school so that he could watch his favourite cricketers at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

"John (left) has been so helpful. In fact, I have learnt so many things about India from him," says King about the Indian coach, John Wright. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

King has fond recollections of his school days, where cricket was at the heart of all his activities. "Sneaking out of school for cricket was quite an experience! Now I can watch all the international matches for free!"

He reveals that his dad allowed him the leeway to pursue the game, since he himself was keen about cricket.

"At no point did he try to force anything on me. The environment that I grew up in was good."

King is excited about his latest assignment, but realises that with the Indians so passionate about their cricket, the job carries with it plenty of responsibility. "I know cricket is more than a game in India. It is a religion here. I had a chat with Adrian (Le Roux) before coming here and that was very useful. There are bound to be so many more people everywhere than in South Africa."

Coach John Wright, physio Andrew Leipus, and Le Roux worked as a team, and King believes the tradition will continue, so that there would be cohesion between the methods of coaching and training, essential for the side to move in the right direction.

"This is extremely important. But John (Wright) has been so helpful. In fact, I have learnt so many things about India from him." Indeed, Wright and King were inseparables during the three-day seminar, religiously taking down notes, and spending a lot of time together.

"You know seminars like these are extremely useful. There is so much sharing of information, and you get to learn so many things," says King, that friendly smile never deserting his face.

He travels back to his days with Border, that possesses several stars such as fiery paceman Makhaya Ntini. King admits he spent less time with the international players. "They were mostly away on national duty. So you do not have an opportunity to work with them. During my time with Border, pace bowler Zondeki was a challenge. He had problems with the back and we set it right. He played in the World Cup."

In Chennai, King had an opportunity to interact with Dave Misson, who served as the fitness trainer of the Australian team between 1998 and 2000. King too believes that `core stability' is a crucial factor in the fitness of a fast bowler.

The fresh-faced King, who appears far younger than 31, has already met Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly and found him an affable man. "It was brief, but we got along well. I am sure we will have a good rapport."

The South African is impressed with what he saw of the Indians during the World Cup. "There is so much talent in the side. I also noticed that the team had a professional set-up when it came to fitness and training methods. The cricketers appeared in fine shape. Hopefully we can now take it to another level."

King's favourite player remains Roy Pienaar, a right-hander who represented Transvaal. "He used to be so elegant, I would go miles just to watch him play." He caught a glimpse of the great Graeme Pollock, a left-hander of breathtaking effortlessness even in the later stages of his career. Pollock's timing was stunning.

That was the past and the future beckons King. And it is pregnant with possibilities.

When King meets the Indian team he, for sure, will have to work in tandem with Leipus. Batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh will be back following finger injuries. Paceman Ashish Nehra should be around too after an ankle surgery. The trio will have to be handled with care, as they get back into their routine.

Judging from the reports drifting in, King, beneath that soft exterior, is a hard taskmaster. There could be plenty of `Zing' in this King.