Just before his retirement, Ashish Nehra in an interview said, “See, I have gone through no less than 6-7 surgeries in my ankle and knee. Does that by any stretch of imagination mean I am unfit? Getting injured is part of the game. But repeated injuries do not dump you among the unfit guys. At 38 I am in the T20 tem. Then I must be fit.” To be or not to be is a huge dilemma. Let’s crack it.
While endeavouring to differentiate between fit and unfit, Nehra is somewhere right and somewhere wrong. Despite his troublesome ankle, he sprints fast. He hurls the red cherry at 140 clicks. He possesses a lean body. The only negative aspect is that his body can’t survive the rigours of a four or five day match. If you look at the way Ravichandran Aswin moves in the ground, then Nehra got to get a fit certificate from the national fitness coach.
Now zero in on the wrong. What‘s the use of being supremely fit and repeatedly breaking down? With today’s advanced pre-hab and rehab available, a sports person’s weaker link in the body is assessed well ahead and he/she needs to work on it to prevent injury. And even after an injury, bouncing back is lightening quick with modern rehab.
Take the case of Sourav Ganguly. Between 1996 and 2008 when he retired, Dada played 113 tests and 311 ODIs. Only on four occasions he missed matches because of injury, that too, one or two matches. Despite the durability, he was all along levelled as a weak link in the ground and running between the wickets. Since his debut in 1999 till 2017 when he called it quits Nehra played 17 tests, 120 ODIs, 27 T20Is. Between 2006 and 2009 he completely disappeared only to comeback like a phoenix. No matter how quick Nehra runs, Sourav Ganguly is easily the fitter man, otherwise, you can not withstand the grind of international cricket for such a long period.
Despite running a lightening run at the then world record timing of 9.74, Ashafa Powell never won any Olympic gold. He runs like a gazelle. While Bolt seldom broke down, Powell was laid low with frequent injuries. For three straight Olympics, Bolt kept himself fit. That’s why Bolt is a legend.
From a fitness coach’s view point I would always back the one who is average in fitness but a horse for longer race. There, of course, are examples when durability is equally matched by supreme level of fitness. In cricket there’s Garry Sobers, Kapil Dev, Viv Richards and Ricky Ponting for example. Talented fast bowlers like Shane Bond of New Zealand, despite being fit had a short career due to injury.
The bottom line is – you got to read your body and prepare accordingly. Lot of sportspersons while striving for too much of fitness ignore their weaker links. They just forget that their body is just not made like that. Sachin started as a medium pacer in the MRF camp. He quickly realised that with such height and body it’s a futile chase. And so we got the god of cricket.
(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades.)