They are bowling fast these days but breaking down faster. India’s fast bowlers — a rare breed — are falling prey to frequent injuries, attributed to flawed training and wrong priorities.
The Test series thrashing in England is still fresh. A major factor was losing Ishant Sharma. He bowled a hostile, match-winning spell in the second Test at Lord’s, only to miss the next two due to yet another ankle injury. India lost the series 1-3.
It showed nothing had changed since the 2011 England tour, when Zaheer Khan, a master of swing, limped off on the first day. Without him, India were routed 0-4. Zaheer, now 35, has barely lasted a full series in the last few years.
A major reason for these breakdowns, experts and former cricketers say, is that the present breed is too focused on working out to look good — getting buff, made–for-TV bodies — that hamper rather than help their game.
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Aussie pace legend Glenn McGrath explains his fitness regimen: “I did a lot of core strengthening, chins and dead lifts. It made my core very strong. If you saw me with my shirt off, you wouldn’t have thought I did much, but I didn’t really work much on the ‘beach’ muscles.”
McGrath played till he was 37, signing off with a ‘man of the tournament’ at the 2007 World Cup.
Former captain Kapil Dev, one of India’s best swing bowlers who also enjoyed a injury-free career, says it is vital for fast bowlers to bowl 60-70 balls at nets every two days during breaks. “If you don’t, your muscles aren’t going to develop. Then you bowl 20-40 overs in a match and you are bound to break down.”
“I don’t understand why they focus on their upper bodies because for bowlers, the stomach and legs have to be strong,” Dev said, adding that running was the best exercise for any sport.
Despite the craze for cricket, India have always struggled to find bowlers who can consistently bowl at around the 140kmph mark. Among the current lot, Ishant’s career has seen too many injury lay-offs while Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav, our quickest, have also struggled with injuries. Mohammed Shami has fared better but his fitness record in domestic cricket is poor.
Bowlers must understand the difference between ‘weightlifting’ and ‘weight training’, says former pacer TA Sekhar, who was chief coach at the MRF Pace Foundation for many years.
A former India trainer, who did not want to be named, said, “Ishant should be mindful of the fact that just pumping iron is not going to help. He has to do a lot of running, aerobic exercises, speed and endurance drills.”
Ramji Srinivasan, an India team trainer until last year, says, “(Mitchell) Johnson started to bulk up and his pace went down and injuries started becoming frequent. Then he started to work on his fitness and flexibility and reduced gym time. He is lethal now.”
Sekhar acknowledged that the human body is not designed for fast bowling but explained why South Africa pace ace Dale Steyn has stayed the most consistent over the years. “You may say Steyn is not getting injured. He is one of those bowlers whose technique and bowling action is economical, so he is injury-free. But there’s nothing injury-free as such in fast bowling.” And that makes workouts even more vital.
Wrong training choices can have other consequences too, as Delhi seamer Pradeep Sangwan found out when he was banned for doping last October after testing positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid.
He reportedly took the tainted supplement on a gym instructor’s advice while trying to build muscles.