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Cricketers Pushing Their Bodies to the Limits

Shane Warne and Michael Bevan in Training
Shane Warne and Michael Bevan in Training

In fitness parlance we often say - make fitness fun. Don’t project it like punishment. The context of the message got to be in generic terms relating to common population. Remember, a sportsperson has to push the body beyond the limit. The record is broken only then. So his real fun is in punishing the body.

Cricket being a sport is no exception to the rule of punishing the body. However, some exceptional cricketers made their own rule to fitness. During the Aussies tour to India in 2000-01 we watched two contrasting sights. On the morning of an ODI match Michael Bevan, the supremely fit Aussie finisher in those ran 14 laps and then took the field at 9 AM. The same day Shane Warne his colleague didn’t even feel like having a proper warm up. 

In cricket there are many Shane Warnes. They are supremely gifted both in skill and fitness. These crowd pullers like Chris Gayle might frown at doing a speed endurance run or a grilling Olympic lifting session. In reality Gayle does. I heard about this story of Virat killing himself with weight during gym sessions with Royal Challengers in IPL. His teammate, an enigmatic Gayle reclining on a bench just giggled. His six packs didn’t need any Olympic lifts. 

For fitness coach the challenge lies in coaxing these laid back talents into training. And one proven trick is to spice up the drills with cricketing actions. Before the advent of the fielding coach fitness coaches used to double up as fielding coach. There were fair sprinkling of fielding drills in fitness sessions. And boy, cricketers thrived on them. During my stint with the India-A team in 2008 I made a blend of speed, agility and fielding. It was a revelation to see a young Shikhar Dhawan, then boasting a la Rambo physique doing a lightening quick feet on ladder and immediately sprinting to chase a cricket ball. In simple words speed and agility combined with fielding made it a spectacle for the cricketers to get captivated.

I remember reading one story on Sunil Gavaskar. Allan Border leading the World XI against MCC for the MCC bicentenary match back in 1987, the last first class match for Gavaskar was lapping around Lord’s. Border urged Gavaskar to join him after every lap. When Border was done with his laps he asked Sunny, “Why didn’t you run.” Pat came the reply from the cerebral man, “AB, I did run with you. Standing there I was running in my mind.”

Sunil Gavaskar or Virender Sehwag always had their own way of keeping themselves fit. I wonder even if exciting drills could draw them into doing it. They believed their body were under control in a set pattern. Wasim Akram, the sultan of swing believed bowling long hours in the net. He was convinced that it would lead him to peak fitness. He would not do extra laps, wheeled away in the net.

However, the stark reality to peak fitness is nothing but blood and sweat. Yes, one must swallow the bitter pill of sheer hard work. Otherwise, you can not survive the grind of level 16 in YO YO. Virat Kohli or Manish Pandey does level 19 in YO YO. A Steve O’Kiefee of Australia does level 20. The intermittent recovery test is quite gruelling. One got to punish one’s body and run in disciplined objective driven manner over a period of time. Otherwise this test will ruthlessly expose you as found by Mohammad Shami and Ambati Rayudu of India (both failed the test and got dropped).

A cricketer must remember that some running or lifting will remain dull like a drawn test match. And some drills will be as exciting as a T-20 going right down to the wire. Both need to be embraced as we deal with joy and woe in life. The real test of character comes when dullness grips the soul, sweat rolls down the cheeks and tired muscles are about to give in.