It’s a victory for the ages. A tour that’s not going to be forgotten anytime soon, and rightly so. From 36 all out in Adelaide to 329 for 7 in Brisbane, via Melbourne and Sydney, India’s 2-1 series win in Australia is among their, if not, the best-ever Test series wins.
And that’s because of the sheer quality and number of players they lost due to injury. Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari and Navdeep Saini were all injured at some stage or the other. That India fought despite this is a tribute to their grit and strength, but why are so many players succumbing to injuries? Discount the on-field impact injuries of Shami and Jadeja, and there’s an area that India have to address in the long run. India showed in this series that their bench strength can stand up to task, but that doesn’t wash away the fact that the injuries are becoming a concern.
We spoke to the former Strength and Conditioning coach of the victorious World Cup 2011 Indian team to know the possible reasons behind the injuries, the road forward and a lot more. Excerpts:
On the injuries
My understanding of it is, this is very unfortunate. Impact injuries are different. Muscle and soft tissue injuries are a definite concern. The reason may be due to pandemic, professional athletes are getting injured all across sports. Nevertheless, we talk about having workload management in place over the last two years. What has happened to that? Are they able to infer the workload management data right, or what is the missing link? Are there are any coordinated efforts to prevent injuries from all the state and IPL franchise trainers? That is very important because the IPL was followed by the ODI and T20Is. Some of them didn’t play IPL so they had ample time to train, it can’t be an excuse.
Any professional athlete has to take care of himself rather than be driven from outside. The motivation has to be from the inside even for fitness. So it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think there is a missing link in the load management protocols and the communication between the strength and conditioning coaches and physios of various IPL teams and the Indian team. You cannot blame Nick Webber (Indian team trainer) or Nitin Patel (physio) for this. That will be very unfair. They’re doing their best to keep the boys in shape.
They joined the team only in November. Till then what were the so-called IPL trainers or other S&C coaches attached to the individuals or state teams doing? They too have to take the onus. Nobody can wash their hands off. It has to be a coordinated effort to see through that the players are in the best shape. Injuries can happen to any player. Repetitive injuries over a period of time to the same person and in the middle of the match, what is happening? Whether they’re doing the exercises wrong, or choice of exercise is wrong, or suddenly coming and bowling more quantity of balls… only the load management data will know. The data for 1.5 to 2 months isn’t enough. You have to go back 2 years in time and assess, nobody does that.
You need to set up a system in place and train differently according to conditions. In Australia, the grass is really soft. It’s soft ground and the run-up is slightly uphill compared to India. You have to be smart in your training rather than hard. You know you’re going to be in a lockdown for two weeks… all those things are set early. It is mentally traumatic, every sportsperson goes through that. That being given, how do you work with it and keep yourself fit is important.
Workload cannot be the sole reason. Umesh Yadav hardly bowled in the IPL, Hanuma Vihari wasn’t even a part of IPL.
There is a slip between the cup and the lip! Theory and practice, there is a missing link. You can have all sorts of things on paper, but how do you transfer it onto the field? It’s an art. You have to be mindful of what data to infer. From that, you have to draw up different schedules for different players. You can’t all the bowlers or players following the same protocols because it suits one person? It can’t be. It’s all a domino effect over a period of time. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The choice of exercise, recovery, diet… all these things add up as a compound interest over a period of time. It has to be addressed at every stage. We’ve suddenly found out that 2-3 guys are getting hammered, it means there’s something wrong. I can’t pinpoint exactly from outside.
With so many players getting injured at the top level ,may be it’s time to think and realise that we might be training incorrectly ? Could be the years of wrong type of training where players aren’t able to MOVE swiftly , have we been training according to our sport ?
— Shreevats goswami (@shreevats1) January 15, 2021
Is it time for sport-specific training?
It’s something I’ve been shouting from the rooftop from 2016-17. Cricketers have to train like cricketers. You cannot train like Ronaldo or Messi or Roger Federer… you have to be even more specific according to the skill. At every level, the energy systems are different.
The testing protocols have to be different accordingly. Why don’t we do this? Just because Australia, South Africa, and England are doing it, why should we do the same thing? Our players are different.
It has to be individualised at every level. The functionality of exercise is very critical to carry over from the gym to the field. Otherwise, there’s no use of fitness. You can do 5 km in 15 minutes or lift 120 kgs, does it transfer onto your field?
Also, cricket is not a continuous sport. It’s a stop and go sport. A person standing in slips or cover doesn’t get the ball for 10 overs. Suddenly he might get a ball and he has to sprint. His body is already warmed down. You’re thrown off gear. That’s when the injuries start to happen. How do you keep the guys active? You have to train accordingly. Cricket is a stop and go, running sport. Not a power-hitting sport. You can train power-hitting to increase bat speed, that is different. They take workouts from baseball for that, but you can’t take everything from there. That’s why the smart choice of exercise is very critical.
The components of fitness for a batsman have to be different from those for bowlers, all-rounders or wicketkeepers. The permutations and combinations are not easy to draw, it’s a laborious process. But it has to be done, and with better coordination.
That players want to play both the IPL and for India is a reality…
Why is it that this is only about Indian players? What about other country players who play in IPL – Australians, South Africans and New Zealand players. Why aren’t they getting injured like this? They also played with the same intensity. Why are there so many injuries only for us? You can’t blame the IPL.
It’s time to have good teamwork. IPL needs to have more recovery people, 2-3 physios per team, massage therapists. And most importantly, they should keep in touch with the Indian team management constantly. Preferably every day, or a weekly log. Have calls with the Indian team physios regularly – it’s your duty to do it. They should also be held responsible. If three bowlers from a franchise get injured, what are the strength and conditioning guys doing there? All that should be seen.
India now has good fast bowling depth, but the injuries are also becoming a concern. How should India ensure they’re protected?
Fast bowling, for example, is all about rhythm. So what encompasses the rhythm? Breathing pattern, running technique, running mechanics… that is rhythm. What are the things you need to do to get rhythm? During the season, you can’t train hard, you have to be in auto-pilot maintenance mode.
Have you seen other sportspersons take training methods from cricket? Then why do cricketers train like other sportspeople? Cricket is one of the least researched sports.
It’s time to study why, when, and how Indians especially bowlers are getting injured. And what to do about it. The current workload management data might say you should bowl only five overs in the nets, how will that help? It has to be based on the individual again. Ask any top fast bowler, they all will say the same thing – bowl in the nets for a longer period of time. Bowling fitness is different. It’s not a question of how much you can lift or your yo-yo score. 20 overs from Ball 1 to end of the day. Okay, fitness adds on. The dog has to wag the tail, the tail should not wag the dog.
Some of the players in MRF pace foundation for example are extremely fit. But when it comes to bowling, they can’t. But take someone like Zaheer Khan – he used to bowl for 1.5 to 2 hours every time. He knows his body. A lot of people thought Zak was very lazy and other things, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his body and his fitness. We all coordinated accordingly.
Even someone like L Balaji, despite all his injuries, he would spend a lot of time in the nets. He knew his body very well after his injury. Both were adaptable bowlers. They knew they didn’t need to look like a Greek God.
Zak was very intelligent in his physical and mental fitness. He bowled a lot, developed muscle memory. To a larger extent, Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra. Nobody talks about Nehra, he is an amazing gritty bowler. Despite so many injuries, he kept going and understood his body. At the age of 37, he even topped yo-yo!
Every fast bowler will get injured – how do you come out of it and make yourself intelligent for the future, that’s important. These are the examples glaring in front of your eyes. You need to pick their brains. The young players need to pick their brains to understand the funda of fast bowling and manage their bodies.
I predicted this in 2017. The amount of training is going to have an effect in the long run. They have to be very careful about it. Beyond a point, fitness is more of an art than science. Science stops beyond a point, you can replicate it. Art cannot be replicated, it becomes fake.