AS THE IPL enters the final phase, it travels back to the big centres, away from the smaller centres. But even the so-called irregular venues like Bloemfontein have excellent facilities, not surprising because the home of Free State has a history of first-class cricket stretching back about 120 years.
For sheer intensity and pressure of the final phase, the players feel each IPL game is a Cup final. In situations like these, maintaining momentum and fitness is of vital importance. Injuries, as much a part of the game as umpiring gaffes, can shatter the best-made plans and players are careful they look after their bodies. Manoj Tewary, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav have been forced out of the competition because of injuries. Zaheer Khan has missed games because of a shoulder strain.
At every IPL hotel, the gym is always busy as physios/trainers work closely with players to make sure the best talent is put on the park. Ashish Nehra has an hour-and-a-half gym session on the morning of the match to make sure his body withstands the strain of the battle. Young Pradeep Sangwan also believes in a serious workout (light weights followed by short sprint bursts on the treadmill) before every match. Pragyan Ojha is spotted regularly in the gym.
International players follow a rigorous fitness schedule, for them the gym is part of office where you need to clock in a certain number of hours. Glenn McGrath trains religiously, Paul Collingwood spent time working with the swiss ball, Scott Styris pounds the treadmill, Kumara Dharmasena (now an umpire) follows a yoga routine which is favoured by many others.
Gautam Gambhir, his body tired after a long season, does specific exercises for the groin. We have non-stop cricket for the next few months - just two days in India after the IPL, then off to England and straight to the WI from there.
In a schedule as crazy as this, it is important for players to switch off and relax whenever they can. In South Africa, this has meant an odd day of golf, the occasional surfing at Durban or Port Elizabeth or a quick trip to Kruger. But now, as the event reaches its climax, the focus will shift strictly to on-filed business.