Shanaka Amarasinghe September 1, 2011

Bench press, anyone?

By and large Asian cricketers are not too fond of working on their fitness - and it shows
27

So I was watching the All Blacks play the Wallabies the other day. Given that this is the world’s premier cricket website, it might be necessary to reveal that those are the rugby union teams of New Zealand and Australia. It wasn’t so much watching them “play” each other as much as batter, maul, punch, thump, and make the best possible attempt to destroy, each other. For the uninitiated, international rugby is a hybrid of professional wrestling (minus the scripts) and American football. To say that it is brutal would be an understatement. Yet here are these 30-odd professional athletes, playing week in week out, with little or no drop in intensity and even less regard for their bodies, representing their countries, provinces and franchises.

It has always surprised me that there are not as many injuries in rugby as you might expect; which speaks volumes for the amazing adaptability and strength of the human body. I have never ceased to be amazed at the limits to which the body can be pushed, without irreparable damage being caused. Remarkable.

Which brings us to cricket, a game played by elite professional athletes, who make a pretty damn decent living, especially in the subcontinent. Given the general per capita incomes in, say, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, cricketers are well paid in comparison. Especially given the lack of any sort of rival sport played at the same level. So one could be forgiven for assuming that their commitment to cricket should possibly be all-encompassing. In a day and age where the average white-collar worker spends a minimum of eight hours behind a desk, cricketers ought to, we assume, spend a similar amount of the day on matters associated to cricket.

A bowler or a batsman can’t possibly spend more than a couple of hours in the nets at a time. Even if this is done twice a day when not playing matches, that still leaves a considerable amount of time to hit the gym. Which is not something that players from the subcontinent seem to be all that worried about. Surely, if they were concerned about it, the likes of Ramesh Powar and Thilina Kandamby wouldn’t exist in their current proportions? The fact that you can be among your country’s elite athletes and still be in such upsetting shape is an indictment of the culture of fitness that surrounds the game of cricket, most particularly in Asia.

Take a look at Shane Watson. A towering brickhouse of a man, who said during his mammoth innings of 185 not out against Bangladesh earlier this year that he started whacking sixes because he was feeling a little too tired to run. He hit 15 (and as many fours). Thirty boundaries from a man who admitted to being knackered. Even Sanath Jayasuriya in his pomp would have baulked at that sort of power-hitting. Foremost among the modern Asian crash-bang-wallopers are Jayasuriya, Afridi, and to a lesser extent Dhoni. All three men are exceptionally strong. Jayasuriya has Popeye-like forearms, while Afridi packs a Pathan punch.

While watching endless reruns of games from previous World Cups in the lead-up to this year’s edition, I couldn’t help but notice the power and grace of the young IVA Richards. Beneath the white shirt and the skin-tight trousers, the bulging muscles are hard to miss. Richards’ destructiveness is legendary, but not many would attribute that to his physical superiority in an era where Mike Gatting and David Boon were not considered entirely misshapen.

“Get to the blinking point,” I hear you urge, with not unreasonable consternation. My point, simply, is that cricket is a physical game. And as long as we keep shying away from that, Asians will win World Cups on dirt tracks and teams with big, strong players will win everything else. It’s no coincidence that the all-conquering England team are playing so well at the moment. They are a well-drilled unit, who not only look good skill-wise, but also physically. Andrew Strauss bulked up considerably over the last winter. Alastair Cook now looks like a Backstreet Boy with muscles, and the likes of Jimmy Anderson have toughened up. Chris Tremlett is also an archetypal specimen, and Kevin Pietersen’s physical prowess is obvious.

It didn’t need Andrew Flintoff to point it out, but the Indian team’s almost complete failure on the physical front contributed in no small measure to their results on the disastrous tour of England. The injury to Zaheer Khan was typical of the apathy that many (though not all) Asian players show for their fitness. Sourav Ganguly’s aversion to running was rumoured to have ticked Greg Chappell off. Non-contact injuries are usually preventable with proper preparation, warming up and cooling down.

Sri Lanka have also faced their share of injuries recently, with some fast bowlers breaking down. This is mainly because the young lads don’t look after themselves when they are playing through the age groups, and break down in the high-intensity environs of international cricket.

It is probably time for Asian batsmen to shed the mindset of being primarily “touch” players, who use their delicate wrists to such good effect, and hit the gym. Naturally, a Mahela Jayawardene will never emerge from the bowels of the gymnasium looking like Watson, but it probably wouldn’t hurt if he bulked up a bit. Kumar Sangakkara is Sri Lanka’s best batsman and has, among other things, his tennis-playing forearms to thank for his power and dexterity. Strength won’t slow you down and stiffen you up. It’ll help you hit sixes. Really, it will. The evidence is overwhelming.

It’s time coaches and physios of subcontinental teams realised that they probably need to increase the proportions of strength- and fitness work they do with their teams. In a region where players are more naturally talented, arguably, than their Caucasian cousins, it would be criminal not to keep up with the physical demands of modern cricket. The relationship between strength and skill is a symbiotic one. It’s time to get on yer bikes, mates.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • MMK on September 15, 2011, 6:23 GMT

    To all my desi cricket-loving friends who have commented here (especially those who disagree with the author or his usage of Shane Watson as an example), pointing out a few fit specimens or a few exceptions to the rule does not eliminate the fact that south-asian teams are traditionally some of the most un-fit teams to grace a cricket field. Take the current Indian side for example; Virat Kohli is a very fit young man - the same cant be said for Munaf, Zaheer etc. And the author is not suggesting that hitting the gym would help Sehwag with his timing, but that it could help his endurance, hitting, and ball-chasing. If nothing else, all readers would agree that a physically fit side has a significant fielding advantage over an un-fit side (as has been highlighted in the Anglo-Indian series). And please, can we do away with the judgemental and caustic comments - this is a site for cricket-lovers, not people who cant appreciate a cricketer simply because he plays for a rival nation!

  • Alex on September 5, 2011, 21:55 GMT

    Sorry to say but India's fielding standard are just absolutely terrible, Forget being professional athletes they don't look like they are fit enough to run a mile.

  • S K Iyer on September 5, 2011, 12:11 GMT

    Shanaka - you began well and yet managed to meander, which is a pity. Cricketers, especially in the sub-continent, have begun to believe that they are larger than life, and have no discipline to follow any of the prescribed routines!!! The Board in all these countries are manned by useless administrators who have no guts to haul up the laggards - and the results are there to see, for the world. Clubs like ManU insist on recording the results of individual training sessions even during off-season, for players - most of whom actually play/stay outside England during off-season. Why cant BCCI with all its wealth, insist on the same for all its 'centrally contracted' players? Sheer Apathy. Disgusting.

  • Happy on September 5, 2011, 10:48 GMT

    @Anindya Kar Kapil Dev is the exception not the rule for Indian cricketers, in fact he showed what could be done if a decent standard of fitness was kept up through a career. You also tried to compare his lack of injury against 2 players who bowl 150+ and 2 others who are 6' 6"+...not a good basis for comparison.

  • Ram on September 5, 2011, 9:51 GMT

    Fitness helps you get the best out of your skill. For a sports professional there can be no excuse whatsoever for not looking after their fitness. Such people should not be allowed to play at the international level and are a disgrace to sport. If you are not serious about fitness, then you are an amateur, and go play where you rightfully belong - domestic circuit!

  • AS on September 4, 2011, 22:35 GMT

    Why do people keep giving examples of players who aren't super-fit and still do well? That's not the point. The point is that EVERYONE can do better and get the most out of their skills if they're fitter. Who knows, Sehwag and Inzamam might have been even better batsman if they were more focussed on fitness.

  • Pratik on September 4, 2011, 15:57 GMT

    Any reasons then, why the strongmen of cricket cant win on dirt tracks? Surely their strength would have helped?

    Secondly, the guy with the highest strike rate is Sehwag, who isnt exactly a fit specimen. Wonder how that fits in.

    Thirdly, the highest run getter in tests and ODI isnt a top physical specimen either

    Cricket is a physical game. But skills take precedence over muscles.

  • Ejaz on September 4, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    I don't understand why people see Afridi only as a batsman.

    He is NOT a batsman, He is an Excellent bowling All-rounder. Whether you count 2007& 2009 tournaments or 2011 world cup. He has done a lot as an all-rounder.

    Dhoni is also a good hard hitting ODI batsman but he is nowhere in the league of Santh or Afridi.

  • avinash on September 4, 2011, 11:34 GMT

    i like the theme of the article. But how can you compare club level players like afridi to dhoni.MS was the best batsman is the world for over 2 years.he still averages around 50 in odis.Afridi wouldnt average 50 even if he combined his averages across all formats..And talking of power hitting,theres a guy called VIRENDER SEHWAG.enough said.

  • Raja on September 4, 2011, 7:55 GMT

    Spot on Mate!

    "And as long as we keep shying away from that, Asians will win World Cups on dirt tracks and teams with big, strong players will win everything else."

    How true is this. Is BCCI reading this and other payers from the Indian Cricket team. Please read this and it will really help you in future, otherwise you guys will not be called Donkeys, but Cows in future.

  • MMK on September 15, 2011, 6:23 GMT

    To all my desi cricket-loving friends who have commented here (especially those who disagree with the author or his usage of Shane Watson as an example), pointing out a few fit specimens or a few exceptions to the rule does not eliminate the fact that south-asian teams are traditionally some of the most un-fit teams to grace a cricket field. Take the current Indian side for example; Virat Kohli is a very fit young man - the same cant be said for Munaf, Zaheer etc. And the author is not suggesting that hitting the gym would help Sehwag with his timing, but that it could help his endurance, hitting, and ball-chasing. If nothing else, all readers would agree that a physically fit side has a significant fielding advantage over an un-fit side (as has been highlighted in the Anglo-Indian series). And please, can we do away with the judgemental and caustic comments - this is a site for cricket-lovers, not people who cant appreciate a cricketer simply because he plays for a rival nation!

  • Alex on September 5, 2011, 21:55 GMT

    Sorry to say but India's fielding standard are just absolutely terrible, Forget being professional athletes they don't look like they are fit enough to run a mile.

  • S K Iyer on September 5, 2011, 12:11 GMT

    Shanaka - you began well and yet managed to meander, which is a pity. Cricketers, especially in the sub-continent, have begun to believe that they are larger than life, and have no discipline to follow any of the prescribed routines!!! The Board in all these countries are manned by useless administrators who have no guts to haul up the laggards - and the results are there to see, for the world. Clubs like ManU insist on recording the results of individual training sessions even during off-season, for players - most of whom actually play/stay outside England during off-season. Why cant BCCI with all its wealth, insist on the same for all its 'centrally contracted' players? Sheer Apathy. Disgusting.

  • Happy on September 5, 2011, 10:48 GMT

    @Anindya Kar Kapil Dev is the exception not the rule for Indian cricketers, in fact he showed what could be done if a decent standard of fitness was kept up through a career. You also tried to compare his lack of injury against 2 players who bowl 150+ and 2 others who are 6' 6"+...not a good basis for comparison.

  • Ram on September 5, 2011, 9:51 GMT

    Fitness helps you get the best out of your skill. For a sports professional there can be no excuse whatsoever for not looking after their fitness. Such people should not be allowed to play at the international level and are a disgrace to sport. If you are not serious about fitness, then you are an amateur, and go play where you rightfully belong - domestic circuit!

  • AS on September 4, 2011, 22:35 GMT

    Why do people keep giving examples of players who aren't super-fit and still do well? That's not the point. The point is that EVERYONE can do better and get the most out of their skills if they're fitter. Who knows, Sehwag and Inzamam might have been even better batsman if they were more focussed on fitness.

  • Pratik on September 4, 2011, 15:57 GMT

    Any reasons then, why the strongmen of cricket cant win on dirt tracks? Surely their strength would have helped?

    Secondly, the guy with the highest strike rate is Sehwag, who isnt exactly a fit specimen. Wonder how that fits in.

    Thirdly, the highest run getter in tests and ODI isnt a top physical specimen either

    Cricket is a physical game. But skills take precedence over muscles.

  • Ejaz on September 4, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    I don't understand why people see Afridi only as a batsman.

    He is NOT a batsman, He is an Excellent bowling All-rounder. Whether you count 2007& 2009 tournaments or 2011 world cup. He has done a lot as an all-rounder.

    Dhoni is also a good hard hitting ODI batsman but he is nowhere in the league of Santh or Afridi.

  • avinash on September 4, 2011, 11:34 GMT

    i like the theme of the article. But how can you compare club level players like afridi to dhoni.MS was the best batsman is the world for over 2 years.he still averages around 50 in odis.Afridi wouldnt average 50 even if he combined his averages across all formats..And talking of power hitting,theres a guy called VIRENDER SEHWAG.enough said.

  • Raja on September 4, 2011, 7:55 GMT

    Spot on Mate!

    "And as long as we keep shying away from that, Asians will win World Cups on dirt tracks and teams with big, strong players will win everything else."

    How true is this. Is BCCI reading this and other payers from the Indian Cricket team. Please read this and it will really help you in future, otherwise you guys will not be called Donkeys, but Cows in future.

  • Qlander on September 4, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    Shanaka Amarasinghe, good article. i hope you enjoyed the rugby

  • MK on September 3, 2011, 22:54 GMT

    Watons is perhaps the worst example to use, as his training and conditioning, had caused problems in the past for his bowling and was often injured. I like the example of basketball when 30 years ago it was thought strength and wieghts training would negatively impact the skill and touch required for shooting and hence players were rail thin, now they are Hugely muscular and strong, although this helps a lot more in basktball than cricket, as the sports are completely different, the fitness requirements for circket are quite strange and varied when compared to other sports.

  • Osman Khan on September 3, 2011, 17:47 GMT

    @ Imran Khan. And your point with regards to the article is?

  • Sarath on September 3, 2011, 11:05 GMT

    A note on Sachin's fitness. He took runner just 2 times in his whole career. Once in Wc 2003 against Pak and once in NZ. And for a career spread over 20 yrs, thats excellent. He is still one of the fastest between wickets and has one of the strongest arm from deep. You are commenting without looking at facts if you say so. He is not a liability of field. Far from that

  • Sammy on September 3, 2011, 2:20 GMT

    Imran,

    You seem to be living in a parallel universe!! Dhoni won the World Cup and thrashed Pakistan to boot!! Actually, has Pakistan ever won a WC match against India? Afridi struggles to even reach double digits when he is batting. India is still #3 in test cricket. Last time I checked Pakistan was above Bangladesh. Congrats.

    As far Tendulkar's record is concerned, you should check the stats of Pakistani batsmen's away record and you would be embarassed. BTW, Tendulkar's averages 56 away from home which is light years better than any Pakistani batsmen!!

  • Rakim on September 2, 2011, 16:17 GMT

    Pakistani players, usually, are athletic. Look at players like Imran Khan (he's still fitter than any 30 y/o), Wasim (man could bowl 90mph moving both ways at his prime having diabetes), Waqar (can bowl 92mph yorker at any stage, surface etc), Shoaib(injuries, and late night partying apart, he bowled with pace, although his test career is short to compare him to greats of the game).

    On the other hand Indian players bowl (at their prime 75-80mph, thats simply embarrassing), and then you have likes of Yuvraj who are clearly fat(i mean Inzi was fat but man had power and used to play pace like gr8s). Yuvi just can't play pace/bounce/seam. Although Sachin is a gr8 example, playing 20 years (we all know his gr8ness).

    Sri Lankans/Bangladesh are way better fielders than Paks/Inds

    Regards

  • Imran Khan on September 2, 2011, 15:25 GMT

    Hey there Mr.Anonymous I just read your comments and I respect your views so you don't need to justify cuz this ain't a court of law but I want you to know something that comparing test avgs of Afridi, Jayasuriya and Dhoni doesn't make any sense. Afridi and Jayasuriya are aggressive so they have a completely different mindset to Dhoni's style of play and so he ain't in the same category as Afridi and Jaya are.........thats what I meant.

  • Ashok Sridharan on September 2, 2011, 11:42 GMT

    Excellent article. I don't agree 100% with the points made, but there's not the least doubt that some of the players from the sub-continent (esp. India) need to be hitting the gym more frequently. Its shocking and plain unacceptable for professional sportspersons to compromise on their physical fitness. Its like a Doctor not bothering to stay abreast of latest developments in his field.

  • Anonymous on September 2, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    I don't think it has so much to do with muscle. You can be as muscular as you like, but you can still be crap, and unfit for that mater. No, its is about suppleness, to avoid injury, and aerobic fitness so that you don't get tired and drained and allow yourself to make the most of your skills. With fitness, from running and interval training etc, will come muscle definition as you burn away your fat. Tremlett aside, England aren't a very muscular side they are just fit and athletes in the proper sense of the word. There's no doubt about India and Sri Lanka are literally miles behind the rest in this area. Pakistan aren't as noticeably bad I don't think, and in Wasim Akram and Imran Khan have fielded some notable athletes. The likes of Tendulkar, Jayawardene, Sehwag, Herath, Raina, Yuvraj, Mishra, Kohli, Samaraweera etc don't look in anyway like professional sportsmen.

  • Reza on September 2, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    Well written article Shanaka, quite agree with you, Malinga should play test match cricket, cant believe that he;'s diving & running and bowling at a fuirious pace but he cant bowl 15 overs in test match cricket where he dont have to dive & run that much to stop the boundary. Asian teams baring pakistan often dont produce real fast bowlers with the likes of Holding, Lillie, thomson, lee & tait.

  • Anindya Kar on September 2, 2011, 5:28 GMT

    Chris Tremlett broke down after 1 test match against India. Stuart Broad broke down midway through the Ashes. Shaun Tait can't last a 4-day match. Brett Lee gave up test cricket at 32. Kapil Dev played 131 test matches without missing a single one due to injury.

  • Rahulbose on September 2, 2011, 5:23 GMT

    Your blog made perfect sense right until the point you started using Shane Watson as an example of how fitness training leads to less injuries.

  • manvendra on September 2, 2011, 4:20 GMT

    had india ever ranked as no 1 in odi's?

  • youngkeepersdad on September 2, 2011, 3:09 GMT

    Shane Watson's mention deserved perhaps more detail. He is one who is perceived, at least by some Australians, as having over-trained fitness-wise in his earlier days, such that he was always suffering injuries. His ability was never in question, but his ability to make it through a day's play was. Now it is said he sticks to more gentle exercise regimes to remain supple. So you can overdo it. Perhaps it should be said that the reason Indian/Sri Lankan batsmen are like they are is because they are allowed to be. Here, I reckon the bigger lads get noticed more and so "muscling-up" is somewhat expected. But that doesn't mean it's the only way it can or should be done. We should encourage diversity in batting. Yet, the author's right regarding general Indian fitness which is currently just not good enough any way you look at it.

  • Anonymous on September 2, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    a) in tests Tendulkar has 6547 runs @ 56.93 at home and 8418 runs @ 55.74 away so he doesn't have more runs at home than away (He has played more tests away but the difference in average is small enough that it doesn't much matter) (one dayers are a different story) b) if you want to talk tests then Dhoni averages 38.14, Jayasuriya 40.07 and Afridi 36.51 so I don't see any reason to discard Dhoni on that comparison, and if you want to discard him because his team didn't win away I think you'll find that Sri Lanka and Pakistan haven't done much better away than India over the last 10 years or so.

  • Imran Khan on September 1, 2011, 16:54 GMT

    Give me a break you are comparing Afridi and Jayasuriya with Dhoni. Dhoni is a just a local hero and that's all. His team was completely exposed in England. You are not No.1 by only winning at home and drawing series away. Take a look at England or even Australia for that matter.They won both home and away and with huge margains like 3-0. Test cricket is the real face of cricket not T-20 and mostly English players said "no" to IPL. Their main priority is Test cricket and so they keep themselves fit for that. This is called commitment.As far as records are concerned Tendulkar has more runs at home then away.

  • cricgenius on September 1, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    i seriously cant agree with you more,when you look at these pathetic players who bowl at 125 and 130 your like why do i even watch this game

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  • cricgenius on September 1, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    i seriously cant agree with you more,when you look at these pathetic players who bowl at 125 and 130 your like why do i even watch this game

  • Imran Khan on September 1, 2011, 16:54 GMT

    Give me a break you are comparing Afridi and Jayasuriya with Dhoni. Dhoni is a just a local hero and that's all. His team was completely exposed in England. You are not No.1 by only winning at home and drawing series away. Take a look at England or even Australia for that matter.They won both home and away and with huge margains like 3-0. Test cricket is the real face of cricket not T-20 and mostly English players said "no" to IPL. Their main priority is Test cricket and so they keep themselves fit for that. This is called commitment.As far as records are concerned Tendulkar has more runs at home then away.

  • Anonymous on September 2, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    a) in tests Tendulkar has 6547 runs @ 56.93 at home and 8418 runs @ 55.74 away so he doesn't have more runs at home than away (He has played more tests away but the difference in average is small enough that it doesn't much matter) (one dayers are a different story) b) if you want to talk tests then Dhoni averages 38.14, Jayasuriya 40.07 and Afridi 36.51 so I don't see any reason to discard Dhoni on that comparison, and if you want to discard him because his team didn't win away I think you'll find that Sri Lanka and Pakistan haven't done much better away than India over the last 10 years or so.

  • youngkeepersdad on September 2, 2011, 3:09 GMT

    Shane Watson's mention deserved perhaps more detail. He is one who is perceived, at least by some Australians, as having over-trained fitness-wise in his earlier days, such that he was always suffering injuries. His ability was never in question, but his ability to make it through a day's play was. Now it is said he sticks to more gentle exercise regimes to remain supple. So you can overdo it. Perhaps it should be said that the reason Indian/Sri Lankan batsmen are like they are is because they are allowed to be. Here, I reckon the bigger lads get noticed more and so "muscling-up" is somewhat expected. But that doesn't mean it's the only way it can or should be done. We should encourage diversity in batting. Yet, the author's right regarding general Indian fitness which is currently just not good enough any way you look at it.

  • manvendra on September 2, 2011, 4:20 GMT

    had india ever ranked as no 1 in odi's?

  • Rahulbose on September 2, 2011, 5:23 GMT

    Your blog made perfect sense right until the point you started using Shane Watson as an example of how fitness training leads to less injuries.

  • Anindya Kar on September 2, 2011, 5:28 GMT

    Chris Tremlett broke down after 1 test match against India. Stuart Broad broke down midway through the Ashes. Shaun Tait can't last a 4-day match. Brett Lee gave up test cricket at 32. Kapil Dev played 131 test matches without missing a single one due to injury.

  • Reza on September 2, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    Well written article Shanaka, quite agree with you, Malinga should play test match cricket, cant believe that he;'s diving & running and bowling at a fuirious pace but he cant bowl 15 overs in test match cricket where he dont have to dive & run that much to stop the boundary. Asian teams baring pakistan often dont produce real fast bowlers with the likes of Holding, Lillie, thomson, lee & tait.

  • Anonymous on September 2, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    I don't think it has so much to do with muscle. You can be as muscular as you like, but you can still be crap, and unfit for that mater. No, its is about suppleness, to avoid injury, and aerobic fitness so that you don't get tired and drained and allow yourself to make the most of your skills. With fitness, from running and interval training etc, will come muscle definition as you burn away your fat. Tremlett aside, England aren't a very muscular side they are just fit and athletes in the proper sense of the word. There's no doubt about India and Sri Lanka are literally miles behind the rest in this area. Pakistan aren't as noticeably bad I don't think, and in Wasim Akram and Imran Khan have fielded some notable athletes. The likes of Tendulkar, Jayawardene, Sehwag, Herath, Raina, Yuvraj, Mishra, Kohli, Samaraweera etc don't look in anyway like professional sportsmen.

  • Ashok Sridharan on September 2, 2011, 11:42 GMT

    Excellent article. I don't agree 100% with the points made, but there's not the least doubt that some of the players from the sub-continent (esp. India) need to be hitting the gym more frequently. Its shocking and plain unacceptable for professional sportspersons to compromise on their physical fitness. Its like a Doctor not bothering to stay abreast of latest developments in his field.