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How trainer Rajamani helped Ashwin beat his body into shape


“In India, we think that we have to do Olympic lifting, we have to do squats, we have to do this or that exercise. But the number one goal is that you have to be available for all games and net sessions,” says AT Rajamani Prabhu, who trains the Rajasthan Royals and the Karnataka teams but has been in the news after R Ashwin credited him for reviving his flagging body.

So what had Ashwin been missing? “I am not against Olympic lifting,” Rajamani tells The Indian Express. “It is a very good tool to develop vertical force. But if you are not doing it properly… it is from a completely different sport after all. If you do normal exercise with emphasis on explosiveness and safe movements, you will get better result. That is one thing I changed in him.”

Ashwin’s fitness had let him down most glaringly on the big tours of Australia and England in 2018 and 2019, where he couldn’t even get close to making himself available for all games. The injuries had become so chronic and so debilitating that Ashwin even contemplated retirement during that period, as he told The Cricket Monthly in an interview recently.

Rajamani and Ashwin, both from Chennai, first started working together a decade ago. And so important was this particular client to become that Rajamani divides his career into “before Ashwin” and “after Ashwin” phases. He worked with the off-spinner for about three years until Shanker Basu became the India trainer. Basu’s methods, according to Ashwin, were “completely left field.” They also pushed Rajamani to study further in order to upgrade himself.

If Ashwin felt Rajamani had taken the loss of probably his most high-profile client “personally”, he was right. “When big players leave you, it impacts a lot. People say, ‘oh see, Ashwin has left Rajamani.’”

Getting Ashwin back was to turn into a mission for Rajamani. “I don’t think I slept more than five hours a night through those three years. I kept studying, kept improving myself to prove that I’d be the best.

“I kept telling my team that Ashwin will call one day, and that is the day we will have achieved everything. Suddenly one evening Ashwin called. I was in the gym. Before picking up the call, I told my people, ‘you see, Ashwin is going to work with us. This is the day for us.’”

It was 2019. Ashwin had been out of the India white-ball set-up for a couple of years. He hadn’t been able to get through Australia and England, and was feeling he wasn’t getting enough support from the team management despite breaking down repeatedly. He wanted to try to repair his body one final time before he gave it all up.

Enter Rajamani for a second stint. In the first 2-3 sessions, Ashwin, typically, was full of queries. “He is the most intelligent athlete I have worked with. As a professional, he will never take an emotional decision. Even today, if he finds out there is someone better than me, he will go to him. He asks all sorts of questions. But once he is convinced, he will never ask again.

“Within a week, he could see the difference, that this is the energy I want, that I was missing all this.”

SMARTER EXERCISES

Ashwin has said he now does mobility, strength and running – in addition to skill – ahead of a series. Earlier, he wasn’t focussing as much on speed and what Rajamani calls “smaller” exercises.

“If he was doing power exercises, he was not doing strength. If he was doing strength, he was not doing unilateral [exercise using a single arm or leg]. If he was doing unilateral, he was not doing some upper-body exercises. If he was doing upper-body, he was not doing some ancillary ones like shoulder or bicep or tricep. These muscles are involved a lot in cricket but we can forget to do all these isolated exercises.
“So weight training is one component. Energy system development is there too. If you then forget speed… in cricket, speed is the number one criteria. He was not doing much speed.”

Pushing a cricketer hard in training during off-season is one thing, Rajamani feels, but making them lift weights while they are playing series is counter-productive as it adds to their already considerable workload.

“Trainers make you do weight training when you are already fatigued. So you slow down further. I told Ashwin that if you are not doing weight training for a week, it will not derail you, but if you miss three days of speed sessions, you will lose 10 per cent of your speed which will make a huge difference when you are playing. Because of his experience of those three years, Ashwin felt the same thing. ”

Of course, it is critical to build trust first with a player if you want buy-in. “If somebody is not playing a game and you immediately go and tell him to do training, it hurts the player. Strength and conditioning for team sport is totally different, because each individual is different.”

Ashwin’s body is certainly different from that of a Virat Kohli or a Ravindra Jadeja, but Rajamani stresses he can hold his own now.

“Everybody thinks he is not a natural athlete but when they take a 2K test in the team, he will be the third. He is a good aerobics-based athlete. He has developed himself like that after a lot of hard work.”

The hard work paid off with a Man of the Series performance against England at home earlier this year, when Ashwin got through all four Tests and also made his fifth Test hundred, in addition to taking 32 wickets. “He called me then and said we have achieved something,” says Rajamani.

Soon thereafter, Ashwin was ignored for all four Tests on the England tour in favour of Jadeja. With the left-arm spinner out injured now, Ashwin’s next goal may well be to keep himself available for all three Tests in South Africa.





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