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January 3, 2008
India's prospects of challenging Australia in the ongoing Test series were jolted when an injured Zaheer Khan was ruled out of the series. With Sreesanth on the sidelines, it meant that both of India's new-ball bowlers from the previous away Test series - in England - would miss part of the action in Australia.
The constant injuries to Indian fast bowlers, according to Javagal Srinath, are due to two reasons: Indian first-class cricket doesn't prepare fast bowlers for the physical and mental demands of international cricket, and that the players are not good at injury management at a personal level.
"The injury management has to start from the players themselves," Srinath said. "Fast bowling is all about self-learning. Injuries will always be a part of a fast bowler's career. It's how you manage them. Once you play international cricket, especially undertake fast bowling which is unnatural to normal life, you have to work around the injuries.
"Knowing your body is very important. Outsiders can't read your body at all, you are the best doctor and physiotherapist. When you can't really understand your inner voices or body, you look out for help."
TA Sekhar, the head coach at the MRF Pace Academy, has an interesting take on it. According to him, most of the injuries have root in technical faults in the bowling actions. And the bowling coach travelling with the team can't keep a tab on technical deficiencies, as the game strategy is foremost on his mind. And there is no back-end support in India to work on bowler's techniques, to understand the inner voices the bowler himself can't hear.
Working around the injuries, according to Srinath, doesn't mean hiding them and playing on. "If you carry an injury into a match, which calls for more than 100% effort, you are hurting both yourself and the team. If a bowler goes through a match with an injury and doesn't perform up to his best, his career will be in tatters. If somebody is doing that, he is doing at his own peril."
Srinath doesn't buy into the argument about the increased workload. "The workload has increased for every team, and not only for India. Earlier too, people used to go play county cricket for six months and come back and play international cricket. Workload is kind of over-rated. The body can take breaks at the correct times and you will be doing fine."
But once a player does get injured, India, according to Srinath, is primitive in terms of sport medicine and physiotherapy. "That is also compounding the problems at Ranji Trophy level and below. Only international players get the top facility."
A Ranji player has to take a big leap when he graduates to international level. "The gap is too big. The cricket played in Ranji Trophy is not even 20% of what you play at international level. In terms of quality of wickets, batsmen, in terms of mental make-up."
The turnover of fast bowlers and the quality has definitely improved since Srinath's retirement, but none of the bowlers has been able to sustain the quality for a consistent injury-free time. The search, as we speak, is still on.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth