Fitness a top priority - Mohammad Akram
Temperatures in Lahore are expected soar past 45 C in the next one month, during which 40 of Pakistan's top cricketers will undergo fitness training at the National Cricket Academy. Mohammad Akram, the NCA coach, hopes to "make the players sweat" and ensure a talent pool that is "fully attuned to survive" at the international level.
The players underwent a preliminary examination to plot their current fitness level. The first 18 days of the camp will be concentrated on physical conditioning, while remaining 12 will be spent on honing all three disciplines followed by match simulations.
"We have been looking for a window in which we could obtain a thorough insight of our players' fitness level," Akram said at the Gaddafi Stadium. "It might have been a talking point but we don't have proper record on our players' actual levels of fitness. Now players will be reassessed every four months to make them realise how important this aspect is.
"The weather might tough for the camp but we deliberately planned for it. We could have taken this camp to relatively cooler places like Abbottabad or Murree but that won't work. We actually wanted our players to work hard and sweat so that eventually he will be attuned for top level. I can't claim that player will be super fit within this month but it definitely will create a significant difference."
Though fitness is one of the three criteria (performance and integrity clearance being the others) that define a player's prospects of making the Pakistan side, it has not been given as much priority until now.
"Being a professional, a player must maintain his fitness on his own but unfortunately in our culture it's difficult," Akram said. Additionally, there was much debate over psychological assessments of the players being included in the programme. Pakistan are known for frequent batting collapses, with players crumbling under pressure despite their evident talent. Former coach Geoff Lawson had hinted at the need of a sports psychologist for Pakistan.
"It is a need but most of our players are very strong-minded and despite off-field issues they bounced back really well," Akram said. "But yes we have already engaged a psychologist who will be delivering lectures every week."
Apart from batsman Azhar Ali, 39 players have undergone a screening test. Azhar has been ruled out of the camp due to a stress fracture in his right ankle and needs a month of rehabilitation.
"It isn't a serious injury but he still needs a four-week rest," Akram said. "He is residing in the NCA and will be doing his rehabilitation on the sidelines of the camp. Mohammad Irfan is up and running and will be in action during the camp."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson