DNA testing, DEXA scan, sleep-wake cycle, lifestyle modification, gluten-intolerant or lactose-intolerant… These are not the terms bandied around by a doctor to a stunned patient in his hospital but by Indian team’s fitness and conditioning coach Shanker Basu who has been largely credited with molding the current Indian team into one of the fittest groups in world cricket.
Gone are the days when it was joked that a physio during early 1990s recommended a tablet of ibuprofen for any ailment that players complained about. There is a qualified support staff with proven record that has rung in professionalism in the way players train and discipline in their lifestyles. While cricketers do allow themselves the luxury of a “cheat day”, they largely stick to their dietary plans that has helped them enhance endurance, agility and core strength.
Until a decade or so ago, Indian cricketers generally -- and particularly the vegetarian ones from the South -- faced lots of issues with the food when they travelled outside the sub-continent. There were not many Indian restaurants as you find them now with West Indies posing them the “biggest challenge.” Their modus operandi would be to find Indian expats while patrolling the boundary and have them invited to their homes for dinner.
“Two bowlers would be on the boundary, one would be (Javagal) Srinath. He would have figured out where we are going for dinner that day, to someone's house. He would speak to one of the Indian friends who were sitting near the boundary line, and make sure we were their guests - uninvited. That was the only option,” Anil Kumble had revealed in an event recently.
The current Indian players do dig into their favourite rajma chawal or a yummy masala dosa but by and large they stay free of junk stuff. While there were always some conscientious players who took care of their bodies, the present bunch should rank the fittest both in terms of the way it looks and ability to maintain high-intensity level.
“What we did is we introduced something called a DEXA scan some years back,” said Basu when asked dietary protocols. “The DEXA scan is used for bone density. Why we started to use the DEXA scan was to ascertain the fat percentage. The moment you have a number in your hand -- and it says 20, 30, 10 or 12 -- there is a sort of healthy competition within the team. What are the ways you can bring down the fat percentage? One is healthy eating habits. Everybody took to that like fish to water, everybody started eating better. Once they started eating better, then all lost the fat and they all started moving well,” he explained.
There has been lifestyle modification among the current players which is a result of the understanding of their own body, work-load and requirements. From training regimen to sleep cycle, the players take care of everything.
“We try to educate them about the Circadian rhythm,” Basu emphasised before explaining elaborately. “The human body has a particular sort of sleep-wake cycle. And what happens is during the IPL, whether you like it or not, the boys take a beating. I would also say that this World Cup preparation was critical with the IPL preceding it. We used to say jokingly that the IPL is sort of Mt Everest, then we come to the base camp and then we are coming to Kilimanjaro here.
“What happens is that during the IPL, the boys start sleeping invariably late – 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock. To get them back to sleeping early and to get them back to a training regimen was sort of a challenge and we had only eight days to come here. Since the boys have done it over the last four years, they quickly understand the value of sleep-wake cycle, good nutrition programme, supplements, training, strength work, conditioning, warm-ups – I can go on and on till the cows come back home. Training, sleep-wake cycle and nutrition – there are the three hallmarks of a professional athlete. I think there is a huge buy-in for this within the Indian team and the results are there for everyone to see now.”