During the 2001 Eden Gardens Test, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and another Australia player were sweating it out in the gymnasium when India coach John Wright happened to be there.
In the same space, an India player was on the cycling machine in floaters and there was an attendant serving him tea. After a while, unable to control his frustration, Wright left the room in a huff. The difference in work ethic was too much to bear.
Paul Chapman heard this anecdote from the former India coach himself. If Wright was to walk into the India team’s gym session now, he would be in awe, feels Chapman.
The sports science manager at New South Wales Cricket in Sydney, Chapman says he has seen the fitness culture change for the better. First, as a physiotherapist at the National Cricket Academy for two-and-half years till 2010, and then during his stint with the Mumbai Indians for the last four seasons.
Earlier, when an India team used to tour Down Under, it would start the game 20-25 runs behind based on fielding ability. In this series, the goof-ups in the field have been punctuated by some electric displays of athleticism by Virat Kohli & Co.
“There has been a dramatic change in India in the last 10 years. You got some great athletes --- Virat’s leading from the front, Rohit (Sharma) is an example and Shikhar Dhawan is a great athlete. Umesh Yadav is remarkable in what he is able to do on the field. The whole group is coming together. You can’t play international cricket now and not be fit. A lot of players recognise the benefits of being athletic,” Chapman told HT.
He started noticing the change towards the end of the careers of India’s last generation of greats.
“I spent more time with Rahul Dravid at NCA than with my wife for two years there (2008 onwards). He was more fit in the final two years of his career than when he first started playing. There was a difference in Dravid --- he was hitting fours, hitting sixes, was running between wickets, fielding at mid-on and diving for balls. I don’t think people had seen him do that before.
“Maybe in the pre-IPL days you could say the physical attributes of players from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were greater and maybe there was better work ethic there. Now, if you come to the Mumbai Indians gym, there’s no way you could say Mitchell McClenaghan or whoever is working any harder or is fitter than any one of the India squad members.”
On Sunday, captain MS Dhoni had the ‘Fitbit’ watch on his left hand. Though not as good as the software in the GPS devices of the Australia team, it is effective for India’s support staff to monitor physical activity, and form an opinion of what the players are measuring up to.
The improvement has also been helped by awareness. Gone are the days of masala chicken, and grilled chicken and salad are in. After landing at Adelaide, Ravindra Jadeja came out to get some food and was seen ordering grilled chicken and salad.
“Virat’s skin fold (measure of body fat) is really low. The lowest we have come across (at NCA) is Wriddhiman Saha’s, it is ridiculously low. Rohit’s gone down with control over diet and good training ethic,” said Chapman.
In a position to judge the needs of the Australia and India players’ fitness requirements, Chapman said Indians had a natural advantage in terms of mobility. “(Australia fast bowler) Josh Hazlewood is rigid, he can just about touch his toes, that’s part of his makeup. In India, most people can touch their toes, they are quite a mobile group. In Australia, we are quite stable.