Turn off the heat
In all medIa interactions since South Africa and India arrived in Chennai for the first of the three Tests, players from both sides have talked about the effect of heat on their bodies. So it's obvious that "heat management" is an integral part of team strategy in this series.
"Heat is more difficult to account for than cold," Dr Mohammed Moosajee, doctor of the South African team, told HT on Tuesday. "For us, it is more difficult to travel and play in the sub-continent than to England and New Zealand."
Moosajee, however, admitted the increasing frequency of South African tours to the sub-continent was helping them in heat management. "The first thing we try and prepare for is acclimatisation. For every hour of time difference, you need to spend a day to get acclimatised. Since there is a three-and-half hour time difference between South Africa and India, you need three to four days to get acclimatised to Indian conditions.
"We first try and get the guys' sleep patterns organised and then make sure they get exposed to the normal conditions as fast as possible. For this, we make sure that they don't stay much in air-conditioned places for the first few days. Also, that they get limited exposure to the heat, so we make them spend time around the pool side, for instance."
The team doctor then came to the all-important factor — heat. "If it's 40 degrees here it feels like 40 degrees. But in Chennai, even if it's 32 degrees, the humidity makes it feel like 45 degrees. We look at three areas — hydration, nutrition and heat tolerance," he said.
Quite a few of the South Africans were seen wearing wet neckerchiefs around their necks. Moosajee explained, "We try and cool the body as fast as possible. During the drinks break, the reserve players run out with an umbrella to try and cool the guys in the field. We have also developed neckerchiefs, which are kept in the freezer box and when they put it around the neck, it takes the temperature down like the towels.
"We also get the guys to change their shirts as often as possible. If you use a dry top, it becomes easier for the body to sweat and for it to evaporate. When the bowlers come out, they are put in an ice bath. The same goes for a batsman who has batted for a long time."
Moosajee conceded that in an "endurance sport like cricket", hydration was the most important factor.
"From that point of view, we make the guys drink a lot of water, sports drinks and recovery drinks - which have more carbohydrates," he said."The food at the grounds is excellent and is prepared according to our diet standards. But if a guy is batting for a long period and is not keen on the food, we have protein shakes and protein bars that take care of the nutrition aspect."
But what if a player doesn't drink enough water? The answer is simple. "He loses weight," like Neil McKenzie, who lost three-and-a-half kg during his five-hour stay at the crease.
"Loss of weight has got to do more with fluid loss. In such conditions, the body may lose close to half a litre of fluid every hour, depending on the exposure to heat and intensity displayed on the field," said Moosajee, whose forefathers hailed from Surat.
"We try and make sure a fielder intakes 150 to 200 ml of fluid every 20 minutes. Even if the drinks break is after 40 minutes, we send out drinks every 20 minutes to keep the players updated with the fluid loss."
Referring to McKenzie's case, Moosajee said, "What was important was when Neil batted longer in the second innings, he lost less weight than in the first essay."
Dr Manab Bhattacharjee, who has worked with the Indian football team, emphasised on the recovery aspect.
"Every player is bound to lose weight during a day's play due to loss of fluid," he said from Kolkata. "But what's important is that he should regain the weight he has lost before the start of the next day. Otherwise, he could be in trouble."
So does the Indian team have an advantage over visiting teams during this period of the year?
"Not really," believes Bhattacharjee. "All the players are bound to lose weight in such heat, so if an Indian players ignores the recovery part, he will suffer. Their being used to the conditions doesn't give them an advantage."
Moosajee feels, "Every team is bound to have a home advantage, but the trick lies in how the visiting team nullifies it by getting acclimatised."
In less than two weeks, we will know which team has turned the heat on.