India's Navdeep Saini, right, reacts after injuring his leg while bowling during play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)(AP)
India's Navdeep Saini, right, reacts after injuring his leg while bowling during play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)(AP)

India vs Australia: Why India’s list of walking wounded is getting longer

Sharma may still get away with the niggle in his right ankle, but Brisbane provided only the latest episode in India’s running saga of the walking wounded.
PUBLISHED ON JAN 17, 2021 05:32 AM IST

Before the insult, there was yet another injury. As Rohit Sharma’s miscued hit off Nathan Lyon arced towards his eventual downfall on Saturday, he winced and pulled up his right foot in despair. That one moment saw not just another typical Sharma dismissal, but another typical injury as well— on an excruciating tour that has already witnessed unprecedented numbers in the Indian camp.

Sharma may still get away with the niggle in his right ankle, but Brisbane provided only the latest episode in India’s running saga of the walking wounded. He was the ninth such case in the series alone, after Ishant Sharma (pre-Tests), Mohammed Shami (Adelaide), Umesh Yadav (Melbourne), Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Hanuma Vihari (all Sydney) and Navdeep Saini (Brisbane) to feel the strain of these past few months of non-stop cricket.

Musculo-skeletal injuries have kept tumbling out of the Indian dressing room, raising questions about training, injury management, the effect of pandemic-induced lockdown and life in the bio-bubble. The spirit may yet triumph for India to come away with a drawn series (what with back-up players and rookies putting up a fight at the Gabba), but the aftermath of the injuries could well be felt further into a year that has just begun. That Australia’s firepower has been undimmed despite Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon playing in all four Tests will only result in comparisons between the teams on fitness work.

Fitness experts had warned that top athletes would break down on return to action from the lockdown (which was Ashwin’s reasoning too), but Australia coach Justin Langer was quick to blame IPL, which preceded India’s long tour (a reason Glenn McGrath was quick to disagree with).

With everyone from the public to the pundits demanding answers (Sunil Gavaskar even told the broadcasters that “there should be efforts to find out if it is because of excessive or less training, or because of the lockdown.”), we asked Ramji Srinivasan—India’s former strength and conditioning coach—to weigh in with his assessment of the situation.

Didn’t happen overnight

“You cannot look at these injuries in isolation. They must have culminated over a period,” said Srinivasan. “End of the day, Nitin Patel (India’s physio) and Nick Webb (trainer) can’t be blamed, they joined the team post-IPL. Injuries will happen, but we have to see if these are repetitive injuries. In that case the process and protocols need to be tweaked.”

Was the workload management not ideal, Srinivasan was asked. “Exactly. What is the workload management doing then?” he said. “There’s no point in just having the data. Working on the information from that data is equally important… Everybody has gone through the bio-bubble, across sports. One has to be mindful of it in current times, by being intelligent and adaptable.”

What caused the spate of injuries, then? “Wrong mechanics, wrong exercise, wrong loading, wrong angles, wrong recovery protocols—they all contribute,” said Srinivasan, before acknowledging that there has been a pattern to the injuries.

Running outdoors

“We are seeing mostly calf, hamstring, hip flexor muscle injuries. These happen when you start running outdoors. The mechanics are different from running on a treadmill. How a player adapts from training indoors to outdoors is the key. It is up to the professionals to make the players adaptable.”

India’s former physio, John Gloster, now with Rajasthan Royals, is not surprised by the sudden rise in numbers either. “The context of the injuries is preparation, the key to any game. The ones we have control over are the calf, quadriceps, hamstring, etc,” said Gloster. “You can’t say the lead up to the Australia series was normal. In such a condition, if a player has to go through the rigours of three formats you can expect soft tissue injuries… The common denominator is altered preparation before and during the tournament.”

“The other thing is they have gone from T20 cricket to ODIs to Tests—bang, bang, bang,” added Gloster. “The preparation has to be completely different format-wise. Hence the need for much larger squads and the need to take net bowlers, some of whom are playing now for India. The preparation time has been reduced and restricted due to the quarantine period and altered training protocols.”

Gloster claims that the Royals team management left no stone unturned in making their bio-bubble experience as normal as possible during IPL—a far cry from the conditions in Brisbane, where the Indian players are currently not allowed to use the gym or the swimming pool in the team hotel. That too plays a big role, said Gloster.

Mental fatigue

“We may be seeing the physical injuries as a result of proper mental fatigue, caused because of the bubble environment. That was a factor we never had to consider before. That’s why we spent so much time on the hotel environment during IPL—on having the green spaces, having balconies, having the ability to escape the room. It makes a huge difference,” he said.

What also makes a difference, according to ICC, is their new guidelines on how to prepare cricketers, especially bowlers, returning from long lockdown breaks. The protocol is elaborate, although not very practical for different team managements and their players. It reads: “Test cricket would require a minimum 8-12 week preparation period, the final 4-5-week period would involve match intensity bowling.”

Far from the recommended preparation time, India’s bowlers have played 3 T20Is, 3 ODIs and 4 Tests in the space of just 6 weeks. That, immediately on the back of a gruelling IPL campaign, which in turn started after a long and sudden period of rest. Somewhere within all of that lies the real blame.


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