DateLine: 5th September 2006
S Venkatraghavan never tires of telling this story – and with good reason. It appears that during the Indian team’s tour of Australia in 1985-86 the former Indian captain was sitting with Don Bradman who decided to visit the ground on the eve of the first Test at Brisbane. The players were doing calisthenics and all sorts of exercises. Venkat who was the Indian manager turned to Bradman and remarked about how things were very different in the thirties and forties and asked how players of his day kept fit. Bradman looked at Venkat and in his inimitable whimsical manner said ``We kept fit playing cricket.’’
Some 20 years down the line if Bradman were still around to see for himself as to how teams prepare for various tournaments and tours the great man would be flabbergasted. The good old days of the players confined to practicing at the nets and the coach giving them fielding drills seem to be gone forever. These still exist but have somehow been relegated to the background. Training camps are becoming more specialist by the day. Innovations and unorthodox methods are the order of the day. Thus we have the Indians having a ``rolling’’ or an ``ideas’’ camp at Bangalore while the Australians preparing for the grudge Ashes series against England are undergoing a ``boot’’ camp in jungle conditions on the outskirts of Brisbane.
India's preparation for the season has been characterized by coach Greg Chappell motivating his wards by innovation - staggered sessions involving one group at a time. During the week long training camp at the National Cricket Academy Chappell divided the 15-man squad into groups of five. Clearly the idea was for the coach, who turned 58 last month, to devote personal attention to each. As Chappell explained ``this rolling camp is about developing individual players, so by making them better we can make the team better. I want to give the players as much variety as possible. If we do the same thing day in and day out, we are not going to do much as a team or as individuals." According to Chappell the small number of players per group also gave him chance to work on specific areas for each player.
In addition, Chappell utilized a bowling machine that delivered balls from a considerable height. As he divulged, "There are certain teams around the world who have height in their fast bowlers. We have to simulate as much as possible". Yes indeed simulation and innovation is the mantra these days as far as training is concerned. Chappell was of the view that a couple of days with each batch was enough underlining that it was quality that mattered and not quantity.
The players have been quite enthusiastic about this new approach. Vice captain Virender Sehwag for one has been effusive in his praise about the camp saying that such innovative training methods are ideal preparation for the upcoming season and next year's World Cup in the West Indies. The coach found another votary in his training programme in Yuvraj Singh who said that ``it is about learning about yourself as players and about improving.’’ Yuvraj’s good buddy Md Kaif was no less keen. ``I have never experienced something like this camp before. We interact with the coach and the captain and as players we get a chance to know each other better. In the long term this camp will definitely benefit us.’’
Chappell also emphasized the need for flexibility. ``Everyone is looking to play their role well and the roles can change from time to time, from game to game and from opposition to opposition. It’s a matter of being flexible and to be able to adjust to different conditions.’’ That explains his penchant for experimentation. The camps prior to this focused on physical conditioning and mental toughness. The last camp held at Bangalore just prior to the team leaving for Malaysia was hailed as ``an ideas camp.’’ According to Chappell ``It's important to take ideas from everybody. Many times only the captain, vice-captain and the coach hold discussions, but other players also have good ideas. "
Thousands of miles away the Australians, preparing themselves for anything England might throw at them in the coming Ashes series, emerged from five days in the bush with a team spirit they believe will make them hard to beat. The country's 25 leading players, backpacks filled with army rations and carrying cans filled with water, slogged it out as part of coach John Buchanan's team-building designs.
Buchanan's pre-season ``boot camp’’ as it was called started with the players donning khakis and being split into groups of six with army rations and survival exercises. The four-day adventure was planned to challenge the nationally contracted men and involved bush tasks in the hinterland of Queensland's Gold and Sunshine coasts that included the Beerwah State Forest, which is an hour's drive north of Brisbane. The focus during the camp was on team building and to ensure the squad is physically and mentally strong in preparation for an important summer that includes the Champions Trophy, the Ashes and the World Cup.
Cricket Australia insured their 25 contracted players to the hilt but according to Dave Gilbert, the New South Wales chief executive the four days out in the wild were designed to be challenging rather than dangerous. "There were methods in John's madness," said Gilbert. ``It's probably what the team needs at this moment in time. The players are very well paid. They basically lead an almost rock star existence, stay in five-star hotels and are feted around the world. To have it tough for a few days won't do them much harm at all." Thus we had the rather unusual images of Ricky Ponting pushing a van in the jungle or a couple of players carrying jerry cans of water.
At the end of it all Justin Langer hailed the unorthodox `boot camp' as an uplifting experience. "I've seen human spirit out there and for me that was very uplifting. It was an awesome learning experience for all of us," Langer said. "We were taken completely out of our comfort zone. Little sleep, little food, no mobile phones, no contact with your family. We didn't have a bed, we didn't have a shower, we didn't have anything," the left-handed opening batsman added.
So is it all hype or is there a method in the coaches’ madness? The fact remains that cricket is changing all the time and this calls for training methods to be altered as well to suit the period during which the cricketers are playing. Fitness levels are extraordinarily high and the competition at the international level is at its peak. Cricket is no more a seasonal game; it is now played round the year. All this calls for drastic changes and hence the need to try out something new in training and coaching methods. Gone are the days when a team was accompanied by just a manager. Now besides a coach there are half a dozen personnel who are experts in various fields. As former Indian cricketer Chetan Chauhan said in an interview to a national daily last month: ``The team these days is like a bharaat.’’ Where all this will end is however a moot point.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)