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Fitness of players non-negotiable, the romanticism of cricket can wait

The yo-yo test is an excellent idea to measure fitness but what is confounding is the timing and how it made the selector look foolish.

cricket Updated: Jun 28, 2018 10:04 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Indian cricket team,Fitness test,Yo-Yo test
The significance of Yo-Yo (or any other test) for the Indian cricket team is that it provides a tangible benchmark for assessment.(AFP)

The Yo-Yo test, which till a few months back could have been mistaken for some fancy dance competition that is the staple of entertainment channels, grabbed the headlines in the fortnight before the Indian cricket team’s departure to England.

Three players – Mohamed Shami, Sanju Samson and Ambati Rayudu – who were in the squad for the limited overs fixtures that began yesterday – flunked the Yo-Yo, raising queries and concerns about the test.

There are two aspects to the controversy which define the contours of this debate in my opinion: One, the usefulness or otherwise of the Yo-Yo, second the procedural legitimacy as it was applied in the recent situation.

There is a school of thought that pooh-poohs the Yo-Yo (which incidentally is derived from a regimen for football), in cricket.

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Unlike other team sports, cricket is based more on skill, nuances of technique and solidity of temperament rather than power, speed and stamina this school believes.

A former player I spoke to takes this argument further. “What should be priority is ability in the middle. The time factor in cricket demands concentration and staying power to go with skill, not what fitness test you pass. Players with broken jaws, cracked fingers, hairline fractures, high fever have performed with distinction in cricket,” he says.

But this reasoning shows up flaws in the current ethos of cricket. The sport’s become faster, and with the rise in limited overs cricket, especially T20, power, speed and stamina – in hitting a timely six, taking a difficult catch or running two instead of three --have become critical.

Even in Tests, the ability of a player to stretch an 80 into a hundred through better running between wickets, or say a fast bowler being strong enough to run in hard at the end of a long day can make or mar the fortune of a team.

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That players with infirmities and injuries have played heroically may have added to the romance of cricket, but does not mitigate the need for stellar fitness standards today. No team will start with a player who has even moderately high fever leave aside a broken jaw!

The nexus between fitness and performance even in cricket is too well established to disregard. For instance, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards often spoken how the West Indies team of the 1970s and 80s achieved greatness because of the regimen introduced by trainer, Aussie Denis Waight.

A basic fitness standard – set after understanding talent on hand -- has become imperative. The significance of Yo-Yo (or any other test) is that it provides tangible benchmark for assessment. More pertinently, it puts the onus on individuals to maintain their fitness, exposes fudgers and laggards.

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But such a test must be used prudently. Minor allowances must be made in specific cases (who in his right mind would drop a Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dhoni or Kohli?), or for those with easily recoverable niggles, so as not to affect the balance, composition and strength of the team.

This is discriminatory some will allege. But selection in any team sport is precisely that. Choosing a player can’t be based dogmatically on just mathematical calculation. Rather, it is a function of applied intelligence. That is its strength.

But one can make a sin out of a virtue with faulty procedure, as seems to have been the case with Indian players recently. To have the Yo-Yo test after the team was chosen not only confounds players, but also makes selectors look foolish.

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We are informed that this time was an exception since the IPL had intervened. But why couldn’t the test have been done prior to the League? Or even during it, considering that all aspirants would be in Bangalore, where the NCA is located?

From all accounts, the confusion was in the unending, grotesque tussle between the BCCI and COA, which is making Indian cricket cut a sorry figure. The Yo-Yo no problem, but this is a No-No.

First Published: Jun 28, 2018 09:48 IST