Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin were batting in front of sparsely filled stands at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, but a lot of the attention was on what was taking place in a secluded corner of the stadium complex. On the National Cricket Academy premises, in the nets where teams usually prepare for games, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and others were taking the yo-yo test, which is now one of the guidelines for selection in any India squad.
It may be recalled that Sanju Samson, one of Indian cricket’s brightest young prospects, was replaced by Ishan Kishan in the A team that left for England after his yo-yo test score didn’t meet the required standards. Mohammed Shami too didn’t make the grade ahead of this Test against Afghanistan, with Navdeep Saini called up in his place.
With the sun peering out from behind the clouds that have hung over Bangalore for days, most eyes were on Kohli, who missed this game and his proposed county stint with Surrey because of a neck-and-back problem. The Indian captain shuttled back and forth with no visible signs of discomfort. In the next net, Dhoni did the same. Kedar Jadhav, who hurt his hamstring during the opening game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April, was on the other side of Kohli. Suresh Raina, part of the ODI squad that will leave for the British Isles on June 21, was also there, as was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, rested for this Test.
More than a decade ago, when Andrew Leipus was the physio and Adrian le Roux the trainer, Indian cricket started using the bleep test – the precursor to the yo-yo one – as a measure of the players’ aerobic fitness. Back then, however, the numbers were only a guide and no player was sidelined because he didn’t meet a certain benchmark.
Since Kohli took over as captain though, there has been an extra emphasis on fitness, with the captain himself leading the way. His Instagram videos don’t just get millions of views from cricket fans. They also remind his teammates of what is expected. It’s no coincidence that even players who used to carry a few extra pounds are now noticeably fitter. Family packs have been replaced by six-packs.
As Kohli and Dhoni wound down and reached for their energy drinks, under the supervision of Shankar Basu, the trainer, another batch of players started to make their way out. Jasprit Bumrah, Siddharth Kaul and Washington Sundar are all in the limited-overs squad. The handful of journalists who had gathered to watch were kept well away, with tape stretched across the entrance to the NCA premises. The test scores are unlikely to be made available.
There is already a move to raise the yo-yo test threshold from 16.1 to 16.3, with Ravi Shastri, the coach, keen on even better fitness ahead of an arduous year that includes tours of Ireland, England and Australia before next summer’s World Cup.