In the fitness of things | Cricket


In terms of value that Dane van Niekerk brings to her South African team, she is no less than an Inzamam-ul-Haq, David Boon or Arjuna Ranatunga. She is a South African cricket legend, a former captain, with 100 plus WODI and 86 WT20I matches. After her international debut in 2009, she was considered the South African team’s most important player, like Inzamam for Pakistan, Boon for Australia and Ranatunga for Sri Lanka. However, for the T20 World Cup to be played at home in South Africa, she will not be part of the squad because she failed a fitness test – she was, to be exact, 18 seconds over the limit for a 2 km run.

Although it sparked a debate about whether fitness should take priority over skill, it is also a statement about how fitness is now considered non-negotiable in the cricketing world. This is a marked and perhaps natural shift from a time when skill was all that mattered.

Back in India, after a review of their performance at the T20 World Cup, even the Board of Control for Cricket in India has reintroduced the fitness test.

South Africa has made the difficult call to leave out a proven and experienced performer, but is it as simple as it seems? Is it ever?

Exceptions to the rule will always exist. So how do you deal with that matter? Ranatunga was a great judge of a single or two and his sharp cricketing acumen gave Sri Lanka an edge. Inzamam’s batting was superb — he seemed to have an intangible quality of timing. VVS Laxman was not the fittest, but a wizard with the bat and a keen performer under pressure.

Cricket is also unique because the workload can vary greatly depending on your specialty. So, is a general fitness test the answer? Indeed, what does it achieve?

On the other hand, the cricket world is changing. With professional outfits looking to get better, the demands on a player to improve in every aspect – including fitness – are greater. Anything that can help should be embraced. For example, Virat Kohli has spoken about how improved fitness levels have helped his batting and fielding.

Ajinkya Rahane, who was the vice-captain of the Indian team for a long time, knows the value of being extremely fit. He played the entire season of domestic cricket for Mumbai this year and at the end gave a clear statement to his Mumbai teammates: “raise your fitness levels”.

With the girls of Mumbai, skill has always prevailed over fitness. Sarfaraz Khan, who has a stocky build, is an example that is central to this debate of cricket fitness over physical fitness.

However, former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar batted for his cricketing fitness: “If you’re only looking for slim and neat guys, you might as well go to a fashion show and pick some models and then give them a bat and a ball in giving their hand and then lock them in. You have cricketers of all shapes and sizes. Don’t go for the size but go for the runs and the wickets,” Gavaskar told Sports Today recently.

Cricket has always been a skill-based sport. Has it changed enough to make batting and bowling skills secondary, with fitness taking priority?

“Yes, skill level is the top priority, if you don’t have the skill level and you are fit then it is of no use. But with good skills you also need decent fitness level. You may not be the best, but to survive in today’s game, whatever the benchmark (2k run or Yo-Yo test), that level is important,” says former Mumbai opener Wasim Jaffer. “Now cricket has changed, being a good fielder is extremely important, you can only be a good fielder if you are fit, you won’t see a very good fielder with a poor fitness level.”

Former India coach Ramji Sreenivasan says eras cannot be compared. “Players like David Boon, Aravinda de Silva, Ranatunga, Merv Hughes, they were indispensable at that time, but now we have players who are on the heavier side who have done exceptionally well, but they are exceptions, not the rule. . We always say there can only be one Sunil Gavaskar, one Kapil Dev, one Sachin Tendulkar… one Sobers, but they are all exceptions, you can’t go by exceptions.”

It has become a case of a player who is not only fit, but needs to be watched.

“No doubt about it, it (looking fit) has become more important than before, but I feel the people who matter, the selectors, they should look at their fitness level rather than what they look like. For example, like Sarfaraz Khan, he is slightly heavy, if you look at him, you wouldn’t say he is fit, but he does the job, bats full day, runs a lot and is back for fielding. As long as you meet the demands, and pass the fitness test, it doesn’t matter what you look like,” says Jaffer, adding that players are better off making an effort to cut down.

Then again, Van Niekerk missed the World Cup cut because she missed the 2km run time mark by 18 seconds. But, when do you run a full 2km consistently on a cricket pitch?

You don’t, says former Mumbai pacer Swapnil Hazare, now a top fitness coach. “In cricket we don’t run 2 km. We run at most 50-70 meters on a very large ground which is also in a very rare case. And you run in a straight line. We need to be more cricket specific, rather than applying parameters of other sports to our game,” Hazare said.

In an ideal world, players want to strike a balance between skill and fitness, but that doesn’t always happen in reality. Still, one could argue that the onus is on the athletes to give themselves the best chance of success. If you can’t then maybe someone else will.