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Old-timers Reveal The Fitness Mantra


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Running is the easiest way to stay fit. “Just run.” This is the mantra that Kapil Dev followed all his sporting life and never came close to missing a match on account of fitness issues.

Sunil Gavaskar too did his bit of running. Just enough, a lap or two of the ground before the match, to stay ‘fit' and focused. But then, as Bishan Singh Bedi once pointed out, Gavaskar knew his limitations and never reported unfit.

He could conserve energy and was acknowledged as one of the finest runners between the wickets.

Dilip Vengsarkar was considered lazy and a shirker when it came to fitness drills. Exasperated once at being asked to undertake an arduous running schedule by Bedi, the elegant batsman had reportedly asked, “Have we come to play cricket or take part in the Olympics?”

Fitness has remained a contentious issue with Indians, especially fast bowlers. “There is a difference between fit and match-fit. You have to be match-fit and that means you should have the endurance to bowl long spells. And that can come only if you have the strength to last the most daunting demands of the captain.

“Fitness has to come from within. There is no point in a bowler working on his fitness only because he has been asked to,” says Madan Lal, a fitness freak even at 60. When coaching Delhi and India, one saw him bowl long spells at the ‘nets'.

True, there was not so much workload when Kapil, Gavaskar and Madan Lal were active cricketers but then the demands were no less. “There was a lot of cricket then too, but we knew how to preserve our energy. Unfortunately, there is little time for the modern cricketer to rest and recover whenever he suffers an injury,” said Kapil.


Bedi has always maintained a one-line argument. “Are the players honest?” There is no doubt that a player is the best judge of his fitness. Manoj Prabhakar insists, “If you are unfit, you will be the first to know. How long can you hide an injury? If you do that, you harm yourself and the team. A committed sportsman would not take the field if he is unfit. He should not.”

Who will take the call on the fitness issue? “If the player is honest, he alone should,” is Bedi's opinion.

“What are these support staff personnel for? Their job is to ensure the fittest take the field. I will hold the men in charge of your fitness responsible. Of course, the player is accountable too,” says Prabhakar.

Kapil observed, “When you do not bowl enough in the ‘nets' you are bound to suffer during a match. These modern day bowlers are used to five overs and a break. Nonsense! Their body breaks when there is pressure.

“I used to bowl a lot in the ‘nets' and also do my daily running. During off-season, I would also throw the ball from the boundary to keep the shoulder moving.”

The Indian bowlers often complain of overwork whenever they break down. The fact, as provided by statistician Rajneesh Gupta, is different.

In 172 playing days (before the current Test at Birmingham), Zaheer Khan had bowled in 17 Tests, 35 ODIs and 11 T20s, 35 IPL and four Champions League matches.

In comparison, James Anderson, in 205 playing days, has bowled in 30 Tests, 46 ODIs and nine T20s. His partner Stuart Broad has 202 playing days with 29 Tests, 38 ODIs and 19 T20s. The two English pacemen have stayed away from the IPL.

Take a look at another example. Harbhajan Singh, played 24 Tests and 39 ODIs and 13 T20s, spread over 229 days, as compared to Graeme Swann, who played 32 Tests, 41 ODIs and 20 T20s in 220 days. What separates the two spinners is the 43 IPL matches. It surely reflects on their current fitness levels.

“How come these Indian players never get unfit when it comes to the IPL? They will not antagonise the franchisee but would not mind missing a series with the national team,” a Board official had said once.

The same officials had also emphasised the need to have a proper rotation policy to allow players stay fresh for big assignments. But hardly any method has been put in place to ensure constant monitoring of match fitness.

Too much gym-work

As Kapil noted, “I have only one complaint against the modern cricketers. They indulge in too much of gym-work. The body should be flexible and not just muscular. Let six-packs remain with cinema stars. Your legs should have the strength to last five demanding days. It comes from running and stretching.”

Kapil narrated one more anecdote to stress the importance of relaxed muscles when playing top class cricket.

“Gavaskar would look up, when facing Michael Holding, only when the bowler was ten steps away from his delivery point. He would tell us if you follow Holding from the top of his run-up the muscles would become very stiff. And stiff muscles only make your job tougher.”

Even as the Indians struggle to battle injuries and fitness issues, Kapil and Bedi, who have always advocated supreme fitness at the international level, have just one short advice: Remain honest.



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