The strict fitness regime being implemented by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is an excellent initiative. Cricket is now much more than a sport and the earlier softer attitude towards players not meeting the fitness standards and still continuing has become a thing of the past. A professional attitude towards the sport has become mandatory and with digital platforms, which are broadcasting the performance of the individuals and the teams, one cannot escape it. The pride and hope of the nation and the millions of viewers and fans depend upon it.
The latest victim of the now famous yo-yo fitness test conducted before a tour was Sanju Samson. The talented youngster on the fringe of making a return to the Indian side just failed the test. He was, therefore, left behind while his colleagues from the India A side boarded the plane to England. This came as a surprise, as Samson had played in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and performed exceptionally well for Rajasthan Royals. His silken stroke-play and effortless hits into the stands were being compared to the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
A trip to England to assess Samson’s capabilities in conditions there was essential for the selectors to evaluate and consider him for the World Cup to be played in England and Wales next year. The yo-yo test as per the limits set by the BCCI should not normally pose a problem to a professional cricketer. Indian cricketers have to realise the seriousness of the test, and for a player to flunk it equates very much to failing an important exam. Samson may have stumbled, but it is an important lesson for all the other cricketers in India to learn from.
The new laws of the game do not permit a runner for a batsman if he is injured or unable to run. This was possible earlier and many batsmen in the past used it to their advantage. On many occasions, it was their lack of fitness and body cramps that led to a runner being called for. In football and many other team sports, a replacement is possible. However, the game of cricket is quite unique. Although it is a team game, the individual contribution is most important, as the sum of each of the players’ performance is what finally leads to the final outcome. An unfit player, therefore, becomes a huge burden whom the rest of the side has to carry without the option of a replacement, except while fielding. This is precisely why the yo-yo test has gained significance, as sustainable speed and stamina over a longer duration has become an essential part of a batsman’s existence. Furthermore, taking quick runs between the wickets and ensuring fatigue does not become an impediment has become a part and parcel of modern day cricket.
The BCCI now needs to ensure that every affiliated state association follows the fitness regulations being enforced by it. This is the first step taken by the BCCI to help players become aware of the importance of health and fitness. The next step one foresees is agility and eyesight. Sportsmen around the world are now being subjected to a very high level of physical fitness and it imperative that they attain it. Cricket too is becoming a faster and more rigorous sport and a cricketer’s body will need to meet the demands of it.
In India, fortunately, there is a gradual movement towards the profession of becoming a certified dietician, nutritionist or fitness trainer, but the remuneration needs to be significantly increased to attract more people into the vocation. Tournaments such as the IPL are becoming a lucrative opportunity for foreign health and fitness practioners, but somehow even the qualified Indian individuals are not being considered by most franchisees. The BCCI has to invest in hiring good fitness coaches and qualified trainers at all levels of the game. At present a player is being advised by short-term diploma holders without much knowledge of sports related issues. So many of the Indian players are being wrongly advised and cared for.
The top Indian cricketers earn a fair amount of money. They need to realise the importance of having their own health and fitness trainers. Every individual has a different body mechanism. For a well-paid Indian cricketer to maintain his fitness levels, it has become important for him to hire a private trainer. Leander Paes is a prime example of this. He has had personal trainers for over 20 years and he credits his longevity in tennis to them. They control his exercises, diet and all health-related issues. The time has come for Indian cricketers to follow in his footsteps.
Indian hockey, on the other hand, is unfortunately far away from worrying about either fitness or health of the players. One was saddened to learn of the plight of our national hockey team. The players apart from being subjected to basic accommodation were recently being given meals that lacked in simple hygiene and quality. The players revolted against it but one wonders if a proper health and fitness regime was to be introduced into their programme, how much better they would perform at the highest level of world hockey.
To become a world class sporting nation, India needs to take massive steps in the area of health and fitness. The national level cricketers, on the other hand, need to rely less on the BCCI and their respective state trainers. They are now part of a rich coterie of sportsmen who can afford to hire the best in keeping them in the peak of fitness. Sanju Samson could have done good service to himself by spending the crores of rupees he made playing in the IPL by ensuring that he meets the very minimum requirements of BCCI’s fitness regulations.
Let us hope that a lesson is learnt and that a potentially in-form and good player is not left behind by a simple yo-yo test in the future.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)