August 4, 2011

What's luck got to do with injury?

When a player walks off the field injured, we tend to sympathise. We need to pause to think if he is culpable

Over the last few days MS Dhoni has been fending off questions about his team's fitness about as frequently as some of his young batsmen have had to fend bouncers in England.

I'm certain Dhoni has his own views on fitness, and I would love to hear them one day, for he is one of the fittest men in international cricket, but as captain - well, he has to say the right things, doesn't he? His patent response to questions about injuries to his key players has been that they are unfortunate and there is nothing one can do. I agree with him that injuries are indeed unfortunate, but I hope he does not really mean it when he says there is nothing one can do about them. There is plenty you can do about injuries, and there is a very good, logical explanation for why some cricketers suffer more of them than others.

When a player gets injured, it is often termed unlucky, and he is generally spared criticism, on the assumption that it was beyond the poor cricketer's control. I have seen, during my playing career, cricketers take advantage of this mindset of the fans and media to tackle their insecurities as players: you would often find a short period of poor form quickly followed by an injury absence.

Except in obvious cases, like where fingers are broken while batting or fielding - like with Yuvraj Singh at Trent Bridge - I really think most injuries should be held against players, as you would a poor performance on the field. Injuries too largely happen because of poor performance - off the field. A player who does not forget that he is a top-level international cricketer, even when he is not playing matches, simply does not get injured often.

Kapil Dev, the great Indian allrounder, who I had the privilege of playing with, was one of the fittest Indian cricketers there has been, and there is no better role model of a fit Indian cricketer than him. Was Kapil lucky that he could play 131 Test matches as a fast-medium bowling allrounder, missing only one Test in between, when he was dropped for playing a wild slog at a delicate stage in a match? No, he wasn't. There was a good reason for why he was so durable.

Kapil's greatest asset was that he was an outstanding athlete. Unathletic cricketers tend to suffer more injuries than athletic ones, and there are numerous examples in Indian cricket of fast bowlers who were talented but not good athletes. Should the lack of athleticism of a player not be held against him? Wouldn't the lack of a natural flair for numbers be held against a chartered accountant who keeps bungling up balance sheets?

Kapil was a superb athlete, and admirably, it was an advantage he never took for granted. He may not have given you the impression of being a thinking batsman, but when it came to his bowling, fielding and general approach to fitness, there was no one quite as sharp. He knew his body well and he made sure that he never pushed it beyond a certain limit, but he was also careful to not keep it in cold storage for too long.

During fielding drills, even before matches, Kapil would always throw the ball back to the keeper with real pace, while most fast bowlers I saw, would want to rest their bowling shoulders. Kapil thought different. He made sure his shoulder was always ready and never surprised - in case he had to throw hard for a run-out first ball of a match, for instance. Damage to a body often happens due to such sudden acts, resulting in the player missing games because of an "unfortunate" injury. Mind you, Kapil was not injury-free through his long career, but he planned the rehabilitation well, so he was always ready and raring to go for the next Test. Playing for India meant a lot to him.

Kapil did not let anyone influence him into changing his natural bowling action - though it had the potential threat of creating lower-back problems. He believed that if his body was allowing him to bowl without discomfort, it had to be the right action for him. I wonder, when I watch some of our Indian seamers who keep breaking down, whether they have strayed from their natural actions so much that their bodies have started protesting.

Rest to the body, as we know, is as critical as physical training, for a long, relatively injury-free career, and that is the big challenge for modern-day players: to get time off to rest their tired bodies. But it is also true that a cricketer opting out of an international series is not as big a deal as it used to be; players are usually given their time off without it being held against them. There is always a tour of West Indies or Bangladesh to take a break from, as we have seen.

I saw a couple of Indian players come into the England Test series off a period of relaxation, with chubby faces and bulging midriffs. That's not something you'd ever see with Rahul Dravid. The only international cricket he plays these days is Test cricket, and he often has to come into the team off long periods of "inactivity", but each time he turns up, he looks lean and mean. Dravid is another player with an excellent record of long-term fitness in Indian cricket, and he does not even have great natural athleticism to thank for it. What he has plenty of, though, as we all know, is discipline. He is the perfect example of that cricketer I mentioned earlier, who even when he is not playing reminds himself every day when he wakes up that he is still an active international player, only waiting for his next international assignment.

Players who are willing to make sacrifices, I have found, sustain fewer injuries than others, so the next time we see a cricketer suffer yet another pulled muscle, let's pause for a moment more before saying, "That's unlucky."

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RAJARAMAN on August 5, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    To compare Rahul Dravid, purely a batsman, with fast bowlers, in terms of fitness is unfair and uncharitable. To be a world class batsman, one need not be an athlete at all (gavaskar, vishwanath, vengsrkar, etc..). They can still deliver. But, if a fast bowler is not an athlete, he cannot survive for long in tests. I agree that fast bowlers need to look after themselves more carefully than anybody else. But that is what the support staff are supposed to monitor and offer help. I thought players hide their injuries or poor fitness to get included in the team rather than out of it. The debacle in England has more to do with unpreparedness than anything else. Let us hope for a turnaround soon. Cheers.

  • arpit on August 5, 2011, 10:03 GMT

    Sanjay M. Can only crticise.... Is not he the same person,who once said, Sachin fear from injuries and failures, thats why he skip to play for world XI in Aus......He gives example of kapil dev. He is great allrounder, but kapil took his 300th wicket in 1987,400th in 1992, and 434th in 1994. that show Kapil did not have that impact in last phase of his career.

  • Nirup on August 5, 2011, 9:46 GMT

    Good one, Kapil was my hero when I was in school. But I do not agree with you Sanjay, when I was in school cricket was on Doordarshan and I get to see cricket very rarely, thats because of the amount of cricket India used to play.Things have changed now there are dedicated cricket channels purely becuase of the amont of cricket played.When a player goes through so much cricket it is only natural to get Injured. Fans and commentators are fickle minded, we all say that a cricketer is making lots money now a days and he does not play for his country with pride anymore and all that.More than me you know that there are lots of cricketers that we cheered, who are now broke and disappeared into balckhole - What are we/media/BCCI doing about it ?? Nothing ..Leave cricketers alone it is a demanding job as it is let us not put pressure on them.For god sake they made or country proud TWICE (1984 and 2011)

  • Harikeshan on August 5, 2011, 8:34 GMT

    Sanjay, utterly and completely agree with you a 100%. Remember a past legend stating that he never went to a Gym and thought the only way to make his body stronger was to condition it by bowling repeatedly. Walsh and Ambrose bowled much faster than any of the present Indian New ball bowlers but rarely missed a test due to injury. We as South Asians arent naturally gifted athletes but that does not mean we cant become good athletes. Makaya Nitni has been known to run long distances before and during test matches. Injury seems to be an excuse modern day cricketers use to mask poor form and fitness.

  • sunilraviraj on August 5, 2011, 7:00 GMT

    Hi Sanjay,

    I am completely agreed with all the points and you already know that World-cup is a hectic process and after playing 45 days of intense cricket, do you really think that our players really needed to play IPL-4. They have got enough money from endrosements and winning the worldcup rakes enolugh money.So why they toiled their bodies and inhured themselves and finally skipped WIndies tour.After that The other thing is that England is consistently playing great cricket(winnig Ashes in Australia) and our boys have prepared so pathetically so such a high profile seriies is an puzzle one can't hardly digest.Another Important point is that whether ODI cricket still needs to played or in my view it has to scrapped!

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2011, 6:53 GMT

    @sajay manjrekar, you didn't consider how much cricket these guys are playing and kapil has played. Did you?

  • Bharat on August 5, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    Completely agree with Sanjay, when it comes to take care off field to avoid injuries. Just one question Mr. Manjrekar. How many tests or ODIs India used to play in 80s and 90s?

  • Musti on August 5, 2011, 4:25 GMT

    Several people commented that the current players have more work load than earlier cricketers like Kapil Dev. To verify if this is true, I compared the bowling load of Kapil and Zaheer during their career using the data given in Cricinfo. If you combine the total deliveries bowled in tests, onedayers and firstclass matches, Kapil bowled 87795 deliveries in his 19 year first class career (1975-1994). This averages to 4621 balls per year. In Zaheer's case I also included the T20 matches. He has bowled a total of 56811 deliveries in his first class career spanning 12 years so far (1999-2011). His average is 4734 deliveries per year. That is roughly two deliveries more than Kapil per week! I don't know if we can call this too much more work load than Kapil had to bear. Let us not forget that Kapil was a genuine allrounder who also spent a lot of time batting, something which we can not say holds good for Zaheer.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2011, 3:14 GMT

    why can't cricketers like Gambhir and Sehwag, skip the IPL to heal their injuries instead of skipping so called low profile international series?

  • Shubham on August 5, 2011, 2:55 GMT

    @rgajria- who else but yuvi??!

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