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India's sports science is still in Stone Age

The one thing that is confirmed in life is death. In sports, it's injury. The trick is to minimise injuries by being better prepared, writes sports-exercise and musculoskeletal medicine specialist Dr Rajat Chauhan.

cricket Updated: Sep 14, 2014 03:29 IST

The one thing that is confirmed in life is death. In sports, it's injury. The trick is to minimise injuries by being better prepared. Kapil Dev didn't miss a match for the first 10 years of his international career. That says a lot about his basic fitness because it is in spite of the fact that fast bowlers get injured 30-40% times more than the rest of their teammates.

Among cricketers, a fast bowler's body undergoes the maximum physical strain. On an average they cover around 5.5km (T20s) and 13.4km (ODIs) in bursts of sprints which is 2 to 7 times more than his teammates. In Tests, it's obviously higher. Moreover, compared to others, bowlers spend less than 35% time for recovery between sprints.

Hamstring injuries

Excessive sprinting is known to cause hamstring injuries, especially if the basic level of fitness is low. A pacer's running technique needs to be proper. Ever noticed the world's top sprinters run? Their faces are very calm, relaxed. Now picture any fast bowler. Most of them charge down huffing and puffing, their faces reflecting the stress.

Improved running technique is crucial, but having appropriate footwear to reduce the strain on various parts of the body is as important. It's not just about a brand. Shoes need to be better to address strain that goes up the body.

When an untrained person tries to run fast, they land heavily on their feet, especially the heels. A lot of pressure is put on the ankles and it moves up to the knees, it over-strains hamstrings, hips, lower back, upper back and then a lot more effort from the back and shoulders is needed to generate the desired force.

Bowlers need to realise that to bowl better and faster, their lower body needs to be stronger, which they almost always ignore. It's good to see that today's fast bowlers are looking fitter, but it seems they are focusing on the beach muscles alone, i.e. biceps and chest, which give them more of a gorilla look.

The idea is to address muscle imbalance, not just muscle bulking, which seems to be the trend today. Strength training needs to focus on general fitness by correcting muscle imbalances and almost at the same time on sport-specific strength training.

Back pain

Bowling action involves laterally flexing (side bending), extending (bend backwards), rotating (throughout the bowling action) and absorbing forces through the spine that are eight times their body mass during the delivery stride. This doesn't only strain the back but also travels down the knees and ankles. In any case, at the time of delivery, the opposite (leading) ankle seems to buckle under all this force.

Imagine fast bowlers dashing down 24 times in a 20-over match. Earlier this year, during a single IPL, there were 14 matches in 38 days for a team. It simply is a recipe for disaster for fast bowlers.

Today, there is good evidence to show that suddenly increasing the workload during tournaments, without having put the body through the same for longer durations in practice, increases chances of injuries. For this again their fitness levels need to be higher, far higher.

Fatigue sets in quicker during matches because there is a mismatch between basic fitness and match fitness. Simply put, we need to gradually increase the intensity of both, general fitness and sport-specific performance, at no time compromising on recovery, which is as important, if not more.

Rest is crucial

There is a good reason we sleep one-third of our lives (eight hours out of 24), or at least, we should. It is to recover. It's but obvious that when one doesn't get enough recovery after strenuous workout, injuries are waiting to happen.

It has also been recorded that injuries just don't happen when there is high workload, but three-four weeks after that. Again, it is because of not enough recovery time.

Besides the players, medics (sports medicine doctors, physiotherapists, trainers, masseurs) need to work very hard. They need to be given a more free hand, which will also make them more accountable. Their job, as much is to help teams win, is to make sure the players have a longer career. For this, they might need to question the status quo.

The problem we face is that we don't have that manpower. Getting foreign medics is not a solution. Are we seeing a second coming of the East India Company? Mercenaries will be mercenaries.

For long-term solutions, we need to train more locals. It's not that we can't be as good. We Indians are the most racist, most of the time it's against ourselves. We would rather see a 'foreigner' medic than one of ours. My grudge is that most of the times the foreign medics are very average.

Our education in India in sports-exercise medicine is of the Stone Age and somehow no one is interested in addressing it. Physiotherapists are sadly being trained to become electrotherapists, turning on-off switches, for which you shouldn't need any education, leave alone a four-year professional degree.

Doctors in the current healthcare system are taught at best how to treat sickness and illness. A doctor, who has seen a few sports people, isn't a specialist in that.

The cricket board needs to stop depending on the current healthcare industry for its manpower of sports-exercise medicine and needs to start its own setup. Healthcare is a misnomer. It should actually be called a 'sickness' industry. We doctors simply aren't trained how to make someone who is already healthy to be healthier. That's where a true sports medicine specialist comes on board.

It is the duty of the BCCI to provide better services to the upcoming cricketers. Only when we look after them, will we have a regular stream of good players coming out.

Work on grassroots

There needs to be a central cricket sports-exercise medicine (CCSEM) unit. This CCSEM should have a training wing which trains and employs similar teams under each state association. This team needs to get to the grassroots. When young players, who have been looked after by the grassroots team, start to get to the next level, the workload on the CCSEM would be lesser as they would have made amazing foundations.

For the betterment of cricket, we need to shake up the system to its foundation, now. Or, not complain, ever. 'Speak now, or forever hold your peace.'

(The writer is a physician of sports-exercise and musculoskeletal medicine)