Late in life,Saeed Ajmal,35,is finding it hard to adjust to a certain kind of change. This isn’t about the adventurous Pakistan spinner longing for that extra fielder on the fence that ICC’s new ODI rule has moved inside the 30-yard circle. It’s about the easy-going old-school cricketer missing parathas and sweets from his diet.
In an interview with the cricket website PakPassion.com,Ajmal spoke about Pakistan Cricket Board’s recent focus on the players’ waistline during a preparatory camp in Abbottabad for the Champions Trophy. “I was given a training and dietary plan by the PCB which I’ve had to follow. I had to stop the parathas and sweetmeats which was the toughest part of the routine. I love my parathas and sweetmeats. As a professional sportsman,you have to make some sacrifices sometimes,” said the man with chubby cheeks and twinkling eyes.
Finally,a dietician was being taken seriously in the Pakistan dressing room. These are truly changing times for a cricketing nation that never bothered to keep a strict calorie count of their former XXL captain,who quite frequently and rather insensitively,got compared to a starchy vegetable.
The Asian nations had been slow to catch up with the global trend of cricketers turning into super-fit athletes. Sri Lanka,with a big help from physio Alex Kountouri,won the World Cup in 1996. The fitness hall in Lanka’s cricket headquarters is still called the ‘Kountouri Gym’. Under John Wright and trainer Adrian Le Roux,Indian cricketers stopped chopping on burgers while on the gym bike. More than a decade later,under MS Dhoni,Team India players who run hard between wickets,chase balls to the fence and dive on the central square rightly get preferential treatment.
Pakistan,despite the best efforts by foreign coaches,continued to bank on the dexterity of their wrists,being peasant-cunning to outsmart their ultra-fit opponents. Before the 2003 World Cup,Inzamam-ul-Haq lost 17 kgs,but along with the flab even the runs disappeared. “I will never do that again. I didn’t score any runs without those 17 kgs. I even got dropped from the Test team,” he said.
With wide eyes,Indian cricketers from the ’80s have spoken about the voracious appetite of Pakistan cricketers. Imran Khan,between innings,would polish off a baby goat (well almost,they add),before taking the new ball. The neighbours have always believed that you can’t fight on an empty stomach. But in a changing world,Ajmal’s 133 Test wickets at an average of 27.6 and 125 ODI scalps at 22.69 aren’t the only vital statistics that matter anymore.
Sandeep is National Sports Editor based in New Delhi.