It’s workout-from-home for India’s cricket stars
Unlike most other global sports, international cricket is not structured into seasons. Which then indicates that there is no real off-season for the busy players to recuperate. The busiest of them are from this country—India plays more international cricket than any other, year after tiring year, and then its members promptly participate in the unrelenting, two-month long grind of the IPL during the summer.
Keeping that in mind, this unfortunate break in proceedings at least gives India’s top-flight cricketers a chance to breathe—the time off from the field could well be of aid to them at a physical level.
Consider this: India last played a game (vs New Zealand, second Test) on February 24 and given that the earliest, albeit hypothetically, they can return to action is on April 15—when the national lockdown ends—the Indian cricketers would have been cricket-free for 50 days.
The last time India got a break of more than three weeks was after the 2019 World Cup in July. That makes this current break the longest off-period that the Indian team has had in seven years (in 2013, India had 67 days’ break between an ODI series against Zimbabwe and a T20 against Australia).
That, then, is a welcome change for a team that has practically lived out of the suitcase since the 2019 World Cup. Post the semi-final loss to New Zealand on July 10, 2019, Virat Kohli’s side had a 23-day gap before facing West Indies in an away T20I on August 3. Starting with that West Indies tour, India played six T20 series, four ODI and four Test series in the last eight months. To pack all of that in, the gaps in between those series have sometimes been less than 10 days.
“It (the break) cannot be a bad thing. Towards the end of the New Zealand tour, you could see some cracks coming up when it came to mental fatigue, physical fitness and injuries,” India coach Ravi Shastri said recently while speaking to former England captains Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain in a Sky Sports podcast.
“The amount of cricket we have played over the last 10 months was beginning to take its toll,” Shastri added.
“Guys like me, and some other guys from the support staff left India on May 23 for the World Cup in England. Since then we have been at home for 10 or 11 days.”
The sudden break does not mean that players are sitting idle in their homes. The ‘resting’ phase has given them an opportunity to work on their fitness.
Fast bowler Navdeep Saini, who was on the tour of New Zealand, is busy utilising this time to follow the programme sent to him by Indian team’s strength and conditioning coach, Nick Webb.
“I am doing core and lower body exercises and also a lot of body weight training. The rigours of constantly playing and travelling can take its toll on the body. I am a fast bowler, the break is a very good opportunity for me to rejuvenate,” the 27-year-old Saini told HT. “It’s essential to remain fit. We have been given individualised programmes by the team management and I am following it.”
But what does Saini do for cardio, which has been prescribed as well?
“For that I go to a friend’s place which has more space. I have many equipment at my home but sometimes not every exercise given to us is possible within the confines of the house. So, I communicate with the national team trainer for his advice if any modification is needed.”
Like Saini, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara too are following specific training regimes. A source close to Rahane said that he is exercising for two and half hours daily in the gym in his building complex. Rahane’s regime includes cardio, weight training, stretching and yoga.
Pujara is working on increasing his back strength after suffering a strain in the Ranji Trophy final, played in the second week of March. The Saurashtra man is mainly focussing on cardio, by running on the treadmill and cycling.
So, do the players send the data gathered from the exercise back to the trainer? No, said Saini.
“During camps or even on field training, we GPS to take our readings. That is not possible from home. Now I rely on communicating what I have done on the phone,” he said.
Meanwhile, the England cricket team—whose tour of Sri Lanka was called off earlier this month due to the Covid-19 outbreak—is following a technically advanced approach. England’s cricketers are keeping fit by taking part in “virtual” training sessions.
“A few of the lads are training together virtually. I did a workout with Stuart Broad and Mark Wood yesterday,” James Anderson said on Friday.
“We’ve all got Pelotons — the bikes. You can compete against each other. Stuart came out on top this time, with me a close second and Mark Wood in third.”
Rob Ahmun, England and Wales Cricket Board’s national coach for strength and conditioning, recently said that the board had provided centrally contracted men’s and women’s players with a ‘home training’ package, including ropes, resistance bands, medicine ball and a kettle ball.
“If the season does come about and we know we have, say, a six week build-up to the season, we’ve ensured the players aren’t starting from a training base of zero, they’re starting from a decent base so they can hit the ground running,” he said.
The much-needed break from the game, according to former India physiotherapist John Gloster, should also be utilised by international cricketers to get a better understanding of their respective skill-sets and crafts.
“It’s easy to feel anxiety during such unprecedented times, when nobody knows what to plan for,” said Gloster, before listing out a few tips to the pros to avoid the lurch.
“One can watch documentaries, play mind games, have conversations. I know half a dozen of cricketers who have signed up for online courses in international universities. Those are the positive aspects one should focus on. Those are the things that they can take back once they get back into the game.”
No one really knows when that will be. But for now in cricket, the behind-the-scenes training continues on a mental and physical level.
(With inputs from Sanjjeev K Samyal)