'It's like having 20 brothers around' - Navnita Gautam gets ready for RCB gig
The Canada-based massage therapist will become the latest woman support staffer for an IPL team
When Royal Challengers Bangalore announced the signing up of Navnita Gautam, the Canada-based massage therapist, she became a rare female support staff member, only the third ever*, of an IPL team.
In the early years of the IPL, the now-defunct Deccan Chargers had employed massage therapists Ashleigh Joyce and Patricia Jenkins. There has been no one since then, and Gautam expects her time with the team next season to be a "fun one", saying she was "really looking forward" to the task.
The only woman in an IPL team. Any apprehensions? "Absolutely not," she said emphatically when chatting with ESPNcricinfo. "It's like having 20 brothers around at all times."
She is hoping she isn't the only one around for long, though, and more women fill in various slots over the coming years. "Slowly but surely, the transition is happening," she said. "I believe that as long as the players and support staff trust your work, gender shouldn't be an issue as we are all healthcare professionals working together as a team to get athletes back on the field."
Gautam will be working with RCB's head physiotherapist Evan Speechly and Basu Shanker, the strength and conditioning coach. She will also be expected to administer specialised techniques to deal with physical ailments of individual players.
Cricket and other field sports are very much the same when it comes to the intermittent nature. But cricket is played for longer hours. Thus, the volume of work is much higher
It won't be her first stint with a cricket team or with Indian athletes. Gautam has worked with Toronto Nationals in the Global T20 Canada league, and with the India women's basketball team during the Asia Cup.
"The experience with Toronto Nationals in the Global T20 league was above and beyond amazing," she said. "Thus, the transition to IPL should be a fun one. One of the challenges would be to understand every athlete's body type/muscle quality and their likes and dislikes towards what type of treatment benefits them the most. Once I understand that, I think it'll be pretty smooth sailing from then onwards."
Cricket being a start-stop game poses different challenges, and Gautam acknowledged that.
"Cricket is a high-intensity speed endurance sport whereby a bowler needs to bowl frequently with a 30-45 seconds break in between every delivery multiple times. There is also a chance that the bowler needs to make a quick sprint right after his delivery," she said. "Also, this is the same for a fielder who needs to react and sprint quickly to grab the ball and for a batsman who needs to run fast again and again.
"Cricket and other field sports are very much the same when it comes to the intermittent nature. But cricket is played for longer hours. Thus, the volume of work is much higher, and the player needs to recover faster to repeat the effort effectively in the next session or the following day."
One of the advantages Gautam has is that she has worked with athletes from various other disciplines, football and basketball, especially. She is planning to introduce some new things to the players when she settles into her job.
"I'm a huge fan of soft-tissue release and manipulations, which is a type of treatment technique pre- and post-game," she said. "Whether you're a batsman or a bowler, I look into which muscles are overactive and which muscles are underactive and treat accordingly with one of the techniques."
*12.30GMT, October 28: Updated to correct the fact that Navnita Gautam isn't the first woman support staffer for an IPL team
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo