The Indian team has often been plagued with injuries to its pacers. Just two days ago, chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar said team physio John Gloster and trainer Gregory King must come up with the answers to ensure that the fast bowlers remain fit.
But the problem can’t be handled only at the top level — it has become deep-rooted right at the junior level, originating when a young player, with a dream to bowl fast, gets lost in the quest for speed and ignores the fitness basics that can keep him injury-free.
While too much cricket and over-exertion on placid wickets also cause injuries, experts believe that lack of guidance on fitness at the junior level is the biggest reason pacers fail to cope with the demands of international cricket.
LACK OF GUIDANCE
Gujarat spearhead Siddharth Trivedi, who missed the last domestic season due to a lower back injury, says, “During my under-16 days, fitness only meant running a few rounds to warm up. There was an acute lack of guidance. A fortunate few would attend camps... after that, we’d get back to our old ways.”
Balwinder Singh Sandhu, the former India paceman and current MP coach, adds, “Many cricketers start thinking about fitness only when they reach the Ranji Trophy — a few when they make it to the international level! By then they have picked up wrong ways of training which would be very difficult to correct.”
The BCCI seems to be making an effort in this, says Trivedi. "The Board is now training players right from the u-15 level."
Mumbai pacer Avishkar Salvi, who sat out a few matches last season due to shoulder and shin injuries, agrees that that’s a step in the right direction: "Players at junior levels have access to proper training methods. We were not so lucky."
According to Sandhu, the greater number of players emerging from smaller towns, and even villages, has given rise to another problem. "While the major cricket centres have good training facilities and can provide youngsters with proper guidance, those from small towns and villages don’t have that luxury. When they come to us, we have to start from scratch," Sandhu explains.
Sandhu says that state associations should ensure that there is a qualified team of trainers and coaches in each district, which could guide players from their respective regions.
Too much cricket
Overexertion, Trivedi feels, is also a major factor. "Fast bowlers need time to rest but do they get enough time to do that? The answer is no."
"I play cricket throughout the year — for my state, club and employers. The domestic season lasts from November to March. There is no problem with that but it does get very strenuous."
And a cricketer just cannot avoid playing for his employers, says Trivedi, who works for Air India. “How long can you play domestic cricket? Ten years? What after that? We must must play for our employers.”
Salvi says bowlers often play with minor injuries, only aggravating them in the process.
“We do not see the long-term effects. We often play with niggling pains and it leads to major injuries," he says.
Trivedi adds: "We often have to play 15 matches in a month for our companies and clubs and it involves lot of travelling. I am lucky to be able to travel by air but many cricketers travel by train. That can be very exhausting."
Both Salvi and Trivedi agree that flat wickets in India make the job tougher. "Bending our backs on these tracks takes a toll," says Salvi.
Sandhu reckons Kapil Dev would be the perfect person to help train fast bowlers on how to avoid injuries.
"Kapil was highly motivated and would continuously work on his fitness. He never missed a match. Self-motivation is the keyword. Fitness is something a player should himself work on."
But the demands of modern cricket suggest that fast bowlers cannot hope to remain injury free through their careers — Kapil will only be an exception to this.