'Cannot have a player using a Test to warm-up'
Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar has questioned India's approach to handling the fitness of its players and has strongly suggested a review of the entire process. Highlighting the example of Zaheer Khan - who had to pull out of the Lord's Test after playing barely one session on the first day due to a hamstring injury - Manjrekar said that the Indian think-tank should have known better than rushing Zaheer straight into the first Test of a major series with little practice in English conditions.
Zaheer's previous international match was the World Cup final on April 2, after which he played in the IPL and later skipped India's tour of the West Indies with an ankle problem.
"With Zaheer Khan not going to the West Indies the worry should have been that he was coming into a Test match cold," Manjrekar told ESPNcricinfo. Though Zaheer bowled 20 overs in the first innings of the three-day match against Somerset, where he finished wicketless, Manjrekar said that it was definitely not enough to be match fit.
"Just one tour game, a few overs here and there is not enough. For people to suggest that he would ease into the series and that it takes a while for Zaheer to warm up is not the right way to look at it at all. For the first match of a major series the player has to be ready; fighting fit and raring to go. The first Test is critical."
After Zaheer left the field with an injury, India's bowlers toiled hard but that was not enough to stop England from piling up big totals in both innings. At the end of the Lord's Test, MS Dhoni said that India were severely hampered by the absence of a third seamer, a complete contrast to the impact of England's three-man pace attack on the progression of the game.
Dhoni remained sceptical about Zaheer's availability for the second Test at Trent Bridge. "We have three days but I am not 100% sure if we will play him or not," Dhoni said. "It is a long series and we don't want to risk any individual if he is only 90% fit as that only increases the chances of him getting injured further. It is very important to get the guys fully fit."
It is believed that Zaheer does not want to risk aggravating the injury and has expressed reservations in private about playing the second Test which begins on July 29. This is not the first time that Zaheer has broken down during a game.
Zaheer did not bowl in the second innings of India's only warm-up match against Somerset, which had raised some doubts about his match fitness going into the first Test.
"What has really come out from what happened to Zaheer is how we (the Indian team) are managing the fitness of the senior players so that they are ready and raring to go in that first Test match," Manjrekar said. "We cannot have a player using a Test match to get warmed up completely."
"What is happening currently with the fitness of major players is that it is left to the individual, the way he wants to tackle his own fitness. I don't think the Indian physio has a plan for the overworked players. I don't think there is a sophisticated, well-planned approach. I think it is left to the cricketer himself.
"Zaheer perhaps made the mistake. India's worst nightmare came true on the very first day of the Test series. It is time [Indian cricket] starts looking at it [player injury] a little more seriously and not leave it to the individual to look to assess his own fitness and approach matches the way it is being done at the moment."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo