IT’S OFFICIAL. Every cricketer — not just those who play the energy intensive shorter versions, but even Test cricketers — will now need to have a basic level of aerobic endurance prescribed by the Indian team management. According to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, even if a cricketer happens to be injury-free and in form, failure to meet the mandatory fitness parameters would result in him making way for a fitter player.
“The captain, coach and chief selector, along with the other members of the selection committee in consultation with the support staff (trainer and physio), have set the parameters. The fitness parameters set by the team management for athletes to be eligible for selection are non-negotiable,” Johri told The Indian Express.
He said that the present set of players — who were part of India’s limited overs series against Sri Lanka and those involved in the ongoing home series against Australia — had all cleared the first of the management-approved parameters: the yo-yo test, the globally-recognised cardio drill for international athletes.
In the days to come, before the team for next month’s home Test series against Sri Lanka is announced, those in contention for the longest format will travel to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru to test their lung power.
The yo-yo test requires players to pace themselves methodically — starting with a modest jog to the eventual gut-busting sprint — as they shuttle back and forth between two rows of cones kept 20 metres apart. Each run needs to be timed with the three beeps that are played in the background. These are the signals for start, turn and finish. With the timing between the beeps constantly decreasing, each subsequent 40m circuit requires more speed. Getting beaten twice by the beep means the end of the test. The final score is determined by the laps completed and the speed gathered.
Johri said that for starters, the Indian cricketers have been asked to achieve a basic score, but gradually the fitness bar will be raised. “On the yo-yo scale, the grade needed to be achieved is 16.1, which is the minimum standard set for an elite international sportsman. The players have been informed of such parameters and most current players have already achieved this standard. In case of any exceptions, we’ve given them sufficient time to raise their fitness levels,” he said.
While most see this as a necessary change considering the demands of modern cricket, there are those who say that caution needs to be exercised before making such tests mandatory.
A former member of the Indian coaching staff said the team management should keep in mind that aerobic endurance can’t be the only criterion for selection. “The yo-yo test can’t be the only criterion to test a cricketer’s fitness. It’s a skill-based sport. There’s so much mental stamina that’s required too,” he said, adding that many of the past legends would have failed the test.
Interestingly, the Indian team introduced the yo-yo to their fitness testing routine in 2012 during a tour to Sri Lanka. This meant that the likes of Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Sourav Ganguly never had to undergo these tests. Though, the team management in 2009 did introduce beep tests — the yo-yo is an improved version of that same drill — it was done more for the players to know where they stood in terms of their aerobic fitness and how much they needed to improve.
Another former player said that proper protocol should be in place for these tests. “While standardisation is good, one has to keep in mind the preparation time given to a player before the test and also how much cricket he’s played,” he said.
The former cricketer cited the example of an India U-19 World Cup star, who was all set to be picked for the T20 squad against Australia but lost out after failing the yo-yo test. “He’s played literally three non-stop months of cricket, starting with the local TNCA league, then the TNPL and then the Deodhar Trophy and India ‘A’ matches. Then, within a day-and-a-half, if he’s made to undergo a yo-yo test, obviously he can’t be expected to be the most prepared. Plus, players need to be told about the tests. There are those who run too fast at the start and eventually struggle once the time between the beeps starts reducing. You can’t just do it once and say ‘Ok, you’ve failed and you can’t be picked’.”
Interestingly, Ashish Nehra, 38, was included in the India team, a clear indicator that he had passed the test. It’s a result that has surprised many. However, a senior trainer on the domestic cricket circuit said, “Ashish Nehra has been recuperating from injury and his body was perfectly rested and prepared for the test. So, it’s no surprise that he did well. He’s also someone who is very disciplined with his preparation routines. And, he is a fast bowler from the old school mindset, who runs a lot as part of his exercise rather than spend too many hours in the gym. His aerobic levels have always been high.”
So going ahead, will the yo-yo test be the mandatory parameter for selection across formats? Johri said, “Yes, but it is not the only parameter for selection. The team management, in consultation with the players, will be slowly bringing in other parameters too.”
The hurdles before the Indian dressing room haven’t just got higher, but have increased in number as well.