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Integrating science with sport

At a press conference, a question was posed to Sourav Ganguly about the change in the Indian team's mindset since the last tour to Australia. Sourav looked surprised and annoyed but replied calmly. The two teams are absolutely different, he said. Everything has changed in three years.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2003 00:53 IST

At a press conference, a question was posed to Sourav Ganguly about the change in the Indian team's mindset since the last tour to Australia. Sourav looked surprised and annoyed but replied calmly. The two teams are absolutely different, he said. Everything has changed in three years. Changes in Indian cricket have been deliberate, they mark a major departure from the past. Sparked by a realisation that modern sport requires modern inputs, steps were taken to ensure performance was not just maintained but enhanced.

The immediate manifestation of such fresh thinking was having a trained, professional coach in place. John Wright's appointment was significant not because of his New Zealand passport but from the fact that he became India's first coach with experience and training for the job. He brought with him a vision, and clear ideas about what was needed.

John saw himself not as a super specialist who fixed the technical flaws of every player from Sachin to Yohanan. Instead, he is a facilitator, who encourages individuals to realise their potential and motivates them to achieve group goals. To meet these objectives, John looked for players with intensity and commitment, tough players who in his words, were willing to die for India on the field. Technical skills can be polished, he felt, what is critical is players should be young, fit and focussed.

John's ally in implementing this vision was Andrew Leipus, the physio from Australia. Leipus got players into shape by laying down a punishing schedule, making sure they spent more time in the gym than in the nets.

Initially, demands for increased effort and intensity were met with scepticism from players. Non believers questioned the wisdom of this emphasis, they wondered whether the training was for cricket or for gaining an Olympic medal. But slowly, as the benefits of hours spent training became visible, the doubts disappeared.

Players realised fitness and fielding are directly connected, and that both impact performance. This difference in the attitude towards training is summed up by Dravid's observation. Earlier, he said, boys would check into a hotel and ask for information about Indian food. Now, after unpacking their bags, they head for the hotel gym.

Trainer Gregory King, who earlier worked for five years with the Border team in South Africa, feels the team works as hard as other teams, players do a certain number of sessions every week to enhance strength, stability and cardio capacity. On the basis of the work put in, players are assessed and a report card handed out so that each knows where he stands.

King, who has woven fitness work into routine fielding drills, a system started by predecessor Adrain le Roux, feels players are aware of maintaining high fitness levels. "But I still have to monitor sessions," he says, "to see the intensity is kept high and also, they don't do anything wrong.

Besides Leipus and King, others too provide valuable inputs to the team. Psychologist Sandy Gordon works on mental skills, helps players to focus on the game and tackle stress. Psychology, says Gordon, is about motivation and self improvement -- it is as vital as technical lessons to correct the backlift. Data available through computer analysis helps players to know their, and their opponents', game better. Each evening, Sehwag and Sachin review their innings, see what they did right and what caused them trouble .

Considering the competitive nature of international cricket, nobody disputes the need for providing quality support to the team. As margins shrink, each team searches for the extra edge. For this, expertise of top professionals is essential, where they come from is irrelevant. In the Indian context, the existence of a support system represents a cultural change and a fresh approach. Indian cricket has finally learnt to integrate science with sport.