We count the wins and losses. A fitness pro sees what we don’t — the muscle behind India’s cricket might.
Ranadeep Moitra, one of India’s leading strength and conditioning coaches who worked with the Indian team earlier, shares his thoughts on this team on the eve of the World Cup final.
The stellar performance of the Indian pacers is the biggest testament to the fitness level that this team can boast of, said Moitra.
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah have together taken 41 wickets so far in this Cup. Shami, who did not play the first four matches in the group league, is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 23 scalps from six matches.
Moitra attributed their success to an intelligent training system that has taken into account the different needs of the two very different bowlers.
“Whoever is looking after Shami has done a great job. Because Shami is a bit vulnerable when it comes to fitness. Managing his fitness is not easy. He is a rhythm bowler. Shami’s approach is soft. Bumrah, on the other hand, has an approach that is more explosive and hard-hitting. He needs stiffer joints,” said Moitra.
“I like the fact that both of them have been treated differently. Because you cannot train Bumrah the way you train Shami. This is a good thing that I see. Otherwise, the pair would not have been so effective. The characteristics of their bodies are different. That difference is being respected during training. I like the approach,” he added.
Moitra helped the cricket board select Nick Webb as India’s strength and conditioning coach following the exit of Shankar Basu after the ODI World Cup 2019. Webb stepped down after the T20 World Cup in the UAE in 2021.
The Indian team’s current strength and conditioning coach is Soham Desai.
Best in business
Moitra found out something during his stint with the Indian team in the early 2000s. For a majority of the players, the first brush with top-level strength training and conditioning happened after they made the cut to the national team.
“It was a faulty system. You should have good coaches at the National Cricket Academy and the state levels. Now, things have improved a lot,” said Moitra, a former first-class cricketer who turned to fitness and conditioning after his career was cut short by injury.
“We have got some fabulous, fit players in the team now. It is, in fact, difficult to pick an unfit player in this team,” he said.
In Moitra’s eyes, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, KL Rahul and Shubman Gill stand out in this team for their fitness levels.
“Kohli is next level. He is beyond words. He is not a natural athlete. From a chubby teenager to his current shape, it has been a journey that is an example of grit and determination,” said Moitra.
Moitra is impressed that Kohli’s fitness is not only about himself.
“Kohli has influenced a lot of people in the Indian team to train like that. He has heralded that culture,” he said.
Rahul deserves special mention for his additional role as a wicket keeper, said Moitra.
Rahul has so far been involved in 16 dismissals from 10 games, second only to Quinton de Kock, a specialist keeper.
Moitra looked back at the members of the Indian team he worked with almost two decades ago.
“Sachin Tendulkar took fitness very seriously. He was very good. Mohammed Kaif and Hemang Badani were very fit. Yuvraj Singh was also naturally athletic until he became injury-prone. Rahul Dravid, true to his nature, would give his best even at practice sessions. He would not take a short-cut, even if no one was watching,” he said.
Moitra gave a disclaimer — in cricket, skill is much more important than fitness.
“Cricket, at the end of the day, is a game of skill. For example, take Rohit Sharma and pit him against the best in the world of tennis, Novak Djokovic. Sharma will not last long against Djokovic in a fitness bout. Both, however, are among the best in their games. People can say whatever they want but in cricket, we really don’t look at fitness the way we do in tennis, football and some other sports.
“You have got 11 players. It is unrealistic to expect the same level of fitness from each player. If there are enough fit legs in the team, they can carry you through,” he said.