On a humid afternoon at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi stands a towering figure. Getting some treatment on his right shoulder, which was injured during a road accident recently, he shouts at the batch, of over 50, running repeated rounds in not-so-friendly conditions.
“Run,” he says. “Keep running,” he repeats.
Hitesh Sharma, who is understood to be a vital cog in the coaching set up of the Delhi U-19 team this season, is infamous for his emphasis on fitness. Overlooking the 15-day conditioning camp of the players who played at the U-16 and U-19 level last year, the 47-year-old feels the demands of the long season makes it imperative to attain optimum level of fitness.
“I am actually defamed for this. People say ‘ye daudata bahut hai’ (he makes cricketers run a lot). Now there is IPL, lot of 40-overs cricket. So there is no option but to stay at the top of your fitness level. Anyway, I am not here to make a gentleman; I want to make a fighter. I am not going to marry my daughter to them. Everyone knows that the level of fitness is increasing in cricket. And, the U-19 season is very long and taxing on the body. We will leave this bunch free after a comprehensive fitness clinic. The season starts in the first week of October. So we will recall the lot, and focus more on the cricketing aspect then,” explains Sharma.
Sharma, who has been associated with junior cricket in Delhi for over 12 years, played a crucial role in the laurels Delhi earned in junior cricket in 2012-13. After leading the U-22 to the finals of the CK Nayudu trophy, he repeated the show with the U-16 team, who also ended up as runners-up in the Vijay Merchant tournament . But, a major reshuffle in the DDCA Sports Committee forced him to don the selector’s hat for U-25 last year. Back in the role he enjoys the most, Sharma throws light on the plans for the upcoming season.
“Right now they are undergoing a rigorous training schedule. They do fielding, running, stretching and then we return to our first emphasis – fitness level. I’m not very sure about the procedure after this camp. They (DDCA) might call players from various clubs for net trials. But focus right now is only on fitness. It will shift to cricket after we conclude this clinic,” reveals Sharma.
THE KNOWN LOT
With most of the players who played U-19 last year graduating to the senior level, Sharma finds himself with a batch he enjoyed a lot of success in the 2012-13 season. Of the 22 he coached for the U-16 season, everyone finds a spot in the ongoing conditioning camp.
While some — three to be precise — represented U-19 last year, the rest might get their first chance at the promoted level this year. Explaining it to be a well-thought-after move, Sharma says it is important to stick to the performing lot and groom them for the future.
“They have the pedigree. From where will you get new players every year? If I have played with the bunch, then I know who performs how. It is all the more important to groom them. Why waste the talent, and ignore them,” says Sharma, who was also the chief coach of the U-15 team that Virat Kohli was a part of in 2003.
During their drubbing last season, where they failed to make an addition to the trophy cabinets, Delhi teams, across all age groups, were a cut below the rest when it came to the fitness levels. Not blaming it on the association, Sharma reveals why fitness is ignored in the Delhi circle.
“Fitness is an ignored area in most of the academies in and around Delhi. Coaches are a bit self-centered. They fear that the students will run away fearing fitness drills. But I feel, if you want to make steel, put them into fire,” he says.
“If you look at other states like Punjab, Jharkhand and Himachal, their fitness level is very high. The fitter you are, the better you can handle pressure. This game is all about pressure,” adds Sharma, who is a Level 3 coach, “the only one in Delhi,” he adds with a sense of pride.
While the camp concludes with a beep test — a gruelling running and fitness test, Sharma says it will filter out unwanted and unfit players for them.
“The one who’s fit will stay, the others will run away. And, potential will be in the one who has been doing it consistently throughout the year. It is not easy to do 28 rounds, with strides, in this Delhi humid weather. Only the best will survive,” says Sharma. “When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going,” he concludes.