With the Windies Cricket Board announcing the squad for a three-Test series in England starting July 8, the wheels have been set in motion. Halted since March 13 due to the pandemic, international cricket will resume with the series, subject to UK government approval.
Australia and Sri Lanka players have also returned to training in bio-secure camps. In India, players like Shardul Thakur, Robin Uthappa and Shreyas Gopal have started training at their local facilities. Though there is no news when the national team players will resume outdoor training, BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal has indicated plans are afoot to hold the national camp ‘as soon as possible’.
The primary focus, on resumption, will be on creating a bio-secure environment for players, with measures like ban on saliva use to shine the ball. The big task for the coaches though will be to ensure the injury-free easing into action of players, a group of highly active individuals forced to curtail fitness and skill activities due to the lockdown.
Being confined to their homes for over two months meant there was limited scope to do even fitness training.
Ramji Srinivasan, the Indian team’s strength and conditioning coach from 2009-2013 when it won the World Cup and became the No.1 Test team, says despite professional cricketers following a well-charted plan during the lockdown, the transition to skill-based training will be challenging.
“Training indoors, in spite of challenging oneself through multiple goals, has got its limitations. One has a tendency to plateau on certain components of fitness than the other. One has to be mindful in progression post lockdown with an integrated approach to all components of training to avoid injuries and be robust physically and mentally to give peak performance,” says Srinivasan, currently with Chennai Super Kings.
The challenge is bigger for bowlers, particularly pacers who put unnatural pressure on their lower body because of their action.
“Fast bowling is one of the most unusual human movements in sport. There is huge load on the joints and muscles through force generation and dissipation. Also, the amount of ground reaction force on the lower body and back is huge,” he says.
“Certain components of fitness like endurance, explosive power, running mechanics and breathing pattern must have taken its toll during the lockdown due to various reasons. The skill component is always enhanced through muscle memory and the functionality of the training mode. It takes time in bringing the synergy—jumping in too soon would definitely lead to injuries.”
What can be termed too soon? Another former Indian team physio John Gloster says it depends on two factors, “Role and format. Preparation for T20s and Tests can be a different ball game. While in a T20 I would advise a fast bowler to go for more speed-based workouts, in Tests I would want him to gain more endurance. The chance of injury for a fast bowler is 30 % higher in T20s because of the nature of the format. Ideally, four to six weeks is needed for fast bowlers, irrespective of formats.”
ICC in its ‘Back to Cricket’ guidelines has highlighted the perils of resuming training after a long break. “Bowlers are at a particularly high risk of injury on return to play after a period of enforced time out… Research suggests a 7-week period of shut down can see 2% bone loss in the spine that takes up to 24 weeks to replace,” it said.
Gloster, who is with Rajasthan Royals, explains. “The reduction of workloads which may happen due to less weight-bearing activity and resistance training, less exposure to the sun and low vitamin D3 component in diet means bone loss. It is a red flag for fast bowlers. It may lead to injuries in the lower back or shin.” The transition from indoor training to achieving match-fitness, he says, depends on a player’s intent. “It’s about what an individual has been doing during the break. If he has been strengthening the foundation with exercises that increase core stability, singular leg stability and plyometrics (exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals with the goal to increase power) the jump will be easy.”
“While the top Indian cricketers will have access to more space and better training facilities, it will not be the same for other cricketers. Space constraint can be an issue.”
GPS data crucial
Technology though will make things easier, according to the Australian. “Every national team and even some IPL teams now have GPS data of their players. They have specific numbers like an individual’s maximum speed, distance covered during matches, speed bands, etc. The match data will be the baseline data and depending on that the national team coaches can determine when a players will be match-fit, at least physically,” Gloster says.
Srinivasan feels players still need to be careful about certain kind of injuries. “It is difficult to say what type of injury can happen, but maybe calf, hamstring and hip injuries can be common because of a lack of ground reaction force, running mechanics and low level of twist and turn during the lockdown.”
Starting slow is key
“The remedy is to start off in a slow basic way, then progress into an integrated mode and then into velocity training mode for each player, then combine the workout into a team mode for synergy.”
Being in the right mental space will still be the key, particularly for batsmen to maintain hand-eye coordination.
“It’s all about muscle memory and neural network pattern which has not been trained for a long period. Training at home with a ball is different from nets sessions. Even with a variety of programme, boredom can set in which can be counter-productive; nothing like batting in the nets and getting the feel of the situation. It’s all about situational awareness and tactical approach to each ball. It may be lost during this (lockdown) period. This would take time and am sure players are aware of it. There would definitely be a deficiency in the motor pathway which can be re-laid well through proper protocols,” Srinivasan says.
“Reflex training and building for batsmen would vary from keepers to spinners to fast bowlers. It has to be highly individualised according to skill.”
Srinivasan says a player’s initial form may have to be overlooked at times. “It’s all part of any sport to be rusty in the initial stages. Placing a player in a bubble wrap need not make them injury-free or increase their performance, while incorporating all monitoring programme—from acute to chronic load.”