When Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad took over India’s pace bowling responsibilities, in England, twenty years ago, the scene was euphoric, also ecstatic. The Karnataka duo happened to team up, true to their home-bred, natural wont, to unleash what was, arguably, India’s finest new-ball attack, at that point in time.
The capable twosome could just as well afford to call spade a spade, and respond with effect, and pace, ball for ball, wicket to wicket. In the process, they became a much-respected, at times ‘feared,’ bowling pair. The allegory was imminent. One conjured up visions of a pace bowling combine destined to serve India, with honour, pride, depth, and effect, for a long time to come, unless the Indian selectors, in their glorious wisdom, goofed up things for the ‘Brahminical’ duo.
Things began to change, for the good. As the two made inroads, forcing the opponent to go on the ‘back-foot,’ the entire cricketing world sat up, and began to take notice. Something incredible had happened. India had, at long last, produced good quickies that could make the ball jump, zip, and zoom, to unsettle the best of batsmen.
So far, so good. But, the larger dimensions on the canvas of glory were not really looked into. Both Srinath, the ‘Mysore Projectile,’ and Prasad, the ‘Bangalore Holler,’ were on the ‘rampage,’ yes — improving their capabilities, armoury, and skills, with every match. As their two-piece orchestra created a great melody, rattling the furniture behind the batsmen, India’s opening burst of creativity was on a song. Srinath and Prasad soon began to bowl their hearts out. They were, quite simply, asked to. They were also game to the idea — the pride of doing service to their country. Without good back-up bowlers to support them, they also began to carry a beast’s burden. They had to perform, day-in and day-out, sans respite. In Tests, one-dayers, every match that mattered, or didn’t matter at all, including some exhibition games. That was too much of cricket — too soon.
It had to tell. It did. On Srinath’s bowling shoulder, long exposed to a robotic existence. He’s out of the West Indies tour. Next, he had to, willy-nilly, focus on getting his shoulder repaired by high-tech medical intervention. It was a big blow for India… What next? Picture: Prasad, a brainy bowler. Not that Srinath wasn’t. He used to ‘tell’ it on the face. Jaded. Too tired. Blame it on excessive cricket, or bad planning. Had Srinath and Prasad been used in short spells, things would have been different. That Srinath and Prasad had sent down over 800 overs in just 10-12 months, at one point of time, webs a tale — a tale more dramatic than computerised likeness.
Much was also made about the fitness levels of India’s fast men, Srinath and Prasad — both vegetarians. Which smacked of a penchant to making simple things too complicated. It goes without saying, that, the duo was fit — as fit can be. Fit enough for cricket. Sports physiology, after all, is not built on just one pedestal. It takes into account all kinds of body anatomy, and function. Also, because, different sports require different body types, and muscles. Cricket calls for a cross among them. For instance, the way the most complex cricket equipment, the human body, gets a work-out, is unique in sport.
Cricket pushes the player to the extremes of aerobic, and anaerobic, thresholds. During aerobic activity, the body burns the biochemical equivalent of regular unleaded fuel: of energy in the form of simple sugar, or glucose. Burning glucose provides a slow, steady supply of energy a la jogging. Cricket players need to be lean, but well-muscled, especially in the shoulders and the arms, quadriceps and hamstrings, for the optimum blend of speed, strength, and agility. The shoulders and arms should not only be strong, but also quick: to whip the ball and bat around with both power, and speed. Plus, you’ll need supple wrists too.
A sharp eye is too vital for a cricketer: to pick up the movement of the ball, and its varied angles. A peak aerobic condition is also a must — to run miles, while bowling, batting, or fielding, and be able to switch to anaerobic metabolism for sprinting to changing positions, or bowling ends. The thighs should be just as strong, and highly developed: to provide endurance as well as power to stay for long hours without being fatigued. Yet, there can be a few drawbacks. Take anaerobic metabolism, for instance. It can sometimes cause cramps, due to the build-up of lactic acid.
When the world has gone high-tech, would cricket remain the same — technologically speaking? Cricket equipment today is first-class, scientifically designed: from bats, protective gear to shoes etc., Add to that a good support system — the coach, physio, trainer etc., — and, you have them all as in any other sport. Cricket is so much unlike tennis or soccer. It will stay that way for all time to come.
Yet, a few things are common. For instance, both soccer players and cricketers need extra energy than what circulating glucose can supply: the contrast being of proportion. A game of soccer requires peak endurance for 90 minutes. Cricketers need endurance for a long day out in the sun, or under floodlights, where they have to concentrate, and apply themselves for a long battle of attrition.
So, never underestimate the lure, thrill of a perfect shot or delivery. There’s so much effort, skill, technique, determination, and scientific thought that go behind it. It isn’t as easy as it appears to be on the field, or your TV screen. It’s hard work: more than the sum of a player’s parts, both in terms of physical fitness, and mental toughness. Please give cricketers their due. Because, with so much at stake in the modern game, the pressure on players is enormous. So, there you are. Not everybody blossoms under such stressful conditions, in spite of all the rewards, fame, glory, and that tonic called achievement.
Cricketers are human. Too human. They too can have breakdowns, lean trots, and injuries to cope with. They need care, sympathy, and attention. You can’t treat them like robots, or machines — and, give them that dreaded disease of every sportsman, who is expected to do too much: burn-out. Nothing would illustrate the paradigm shift, a case of a sportsman’s burden than Srinath’s shoulder injury. He’d been an exception too, all the same. He bounced back with renewed vigour, and purpose. But, not everyone will have Srinath’s sense of commitment, resilience, and good fortune.
That’s enough food for thought — no more, no less.
— Photo, Courtesy: HINDI SPORTS CAFE