August 14, 2003

Fighting trim

When Sourav Ganguly walked into the NCA premises - bulky equipment "coffin" in tow - he was surrounded by so many flashbulbs and microphones that you wondered if it was Oscar night, rather than just the start of the Indian cricket team's preparatory camp. The man Geoffrey Boycott likes to call royalty was attired in a grey T-shirt and khakis, and there was ample evidence that the training programme prescribed for the off-season had been followed. Like most of his players, who had departed to the team hotel 15 minutes earlier, Ganguly looked in fighting trim, a welcome change from the days when some players arrived at camp as Mr Blobby impersonators.

Sachin Tendulkar had made a quiet exit from the gymnasium minutes earlier, with the light-footed air of a man who has lost a couple of kilos. Virender Sehwag had followed him down the stairs with a smile on his face. If the back injury that forced him to cut short his stint with Leicestershire was hurting, he certainly wasn't letting on. Harbhajan Singh was one of the last to leave, along with Anil Kumble, who was at the receiving end of a couple of questions about the condition of Srinath Bhai.

Those who had just returned from the A-team tour were congratulated by the others, with Kumble having an encouraging word or two for Ambati Rayudu. Ashish Nehra, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan Junior all looked in mint condition, ready for two weeks of hard slog that will set them up for what promises to be a momentous season. After five minutes of media interaction, characterised by much bonhomie and back-slapping, the players were quietly guided away to the team bus. Having been briefed about the aims of the camp this morning, they will be back in the afternoon for the serious business of fitness tests. Once those assessments are complete, the training sessions will start in earnest on Saturday, with fielding drills also high on the agenda.

While the players understandably hogged most of the limelight, some of it was left to fall on Gregory King, India's latest fitness trainer. Adrian Le Roux's successor, who earned his spurs over six years with the Border Bears in East London, had mischievous eyes and the general air of a prankster. But once he started talking, there was no mucking about.

He said he'd met a couple of the players earlier, when he came to India for his interview, but this was his first opportunity to interact with the whole group. "The best trainers needn't necessarily be cricketers themselves," he told you solemnly, having mentioned his background in B-side cricket.

There would be no major earthquakes on the training front. "The players were very comfortable with the systems Adrian had in place," he said. "And the boys have been following the training schedules given to them before they went home for the summer. As for the India A boys, most of them will already be match-hard after the England tour.

"It's a great opportunity to work with such a talented bunch," he added before excusing himself, and leaving the stage to John Wright. Wright was unfazed by the numbers involved at the camp. Wasn't 36 players a dozen too many? "It's not an issue if you plan it properly," he said. "I'd like to think of it as an opportunity to get to know them all, and figure out where they're at in the fitness scheme of things. Andrew [Leipus] will also be spending time with them assessing any injuries they may have picked up."

Neither Wright nor Ganguly was overkeen to talk about the New Zealand series, or indulge in speculation about the nature of the pitches likely to be used. "After playing 16 Test matches last year, we needed this break," said Ganguly, "but I'm quite excited about getting back on the cricket pitch. The camp will give me a chance to interact with the younger players and study our bench strength."

There were also words for encouragement for Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, who are going through indifferent county stints with Yorkshire and Derbyshire. "County cricket is not easy," he said, perhaps thinking back to the mixed time he had at Lancashire in 2000. "But it'll be a good learning experience for them."

And as the notebooks were put away and pens capped, he strode off, giving the impression of a man very much in control of things. The hard work, however, is just about to begin.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo in India.

Comments