Eleven players on each side, that’s all cricket and football have in common. Cricket is often criticised for its lack of universal appeal, but in India, it is the undisputed emperor of sports.
So, why is it the only sport we are good at? At the risk of incurring the wrath of a billion fellow Indians, we would hazard a guess that perhaps it’s because we are not natural athletes. The South Asian gene pool seems to have been completely overlooked when it comes to raw physical prowess; the ability to defy the laws of physics with the human body.
There are countless arguments about scientific training methods, money, nutrition, etc., yet there are as many examples of athletes from nations that have none of these luxuries, but still manage to perform astounding physical feats. When it comes to Indians, the ‘supergene’ has not left the building; it never walked in, in the first place.
The premise is that we have taken to cricket because it combines excitement, technique, talent and skill, without necessarily demanding athleticism beyond the minimal. Being a good athlete helps a cricketer, of course, but it is not a prerequisite.
At the Siri Fort Sports Complex in New Delhi, a chart of physical exertion states that maximum calories are burnt playing sports like swimming and squash. The same chart compares cricket, in terms of exerting activities, to cleaning the house!
Heath Matthews is one of India’s best-known physios, having worked with the likes of Mahesh Bhupathi, Saina Nehwal, Abhinav Bindra and Akhil Kumar among others. “Training is where the secret lies. Explosive training needs very specific and technically correct exercises. If they are done incorrectly or at the wrong time then the explosive power will be affected negatively,” says Matthews.
In terms of energy, in a 90-minute football game a central defender would burn between 500-800 calories. Longevity of cricket games balances things out in that respect.
“When a batsman is running between the wickets or a footballer is blazing down the field on a counter-attack they are in anaerobic states. When the batsman is resting at the non-strikers end or a defender is marking a striker near the halfway line they are in aerobic states. Each sport has elements of both energy systems working at all times,” explains Matthews.
Dr. Jatin Chaudhary, who has treated Yuvraj Singh, Sania Mirza, Arjun Atwal and many other big names, using non-intrusive alternate therapies. “Cricketers suffer mostly degenerative diseases, while tennis players, for example, often pick up injuries through over-exertion.”
Chaudhary adds, “On a scale of 10, football would be an eight, while cricket would be one for strength and one for endurance. We have seen overweight players play cricket at the highest level, but in other sports, this would be impossible.”
Touché, Dr. Chaudhary, we say, as we amble out for our weekly cricket game, with the beer during the break, it sure beats having to clean the house!
(With inputs by Indraneel Das)