ICC World Cup: How fit are the fitness gurus for Team India?
Apart from stepping on a ball or being hit in the nets, one can conclude that more time a cricketer spends in the hands of the medical staff, the lesser chances he has of being fit, writes Michael Jeh
Ian Healy became the legend he is because of injury. Afghanistan's coach, Peter Anderson, widely regarded as one of the best wicketkeepers never to play for Australia, stood up to Ian Botham at the WACA in a Sheffield Shield match and busted a finger. Healy was drafted into the Queensland team as a replacement, Australia were at their weakest for decades so they punted on a youngster and the rest is history.
Ishant Sharma during a training session at Adelaide Oval in last November. Pic/Getty Images
By his own admission, he didn't start out as the best wicketkeeper in the country but by the end of his career, he was regarded as one of the all-time greats. It's about taking your chances when they come, even by accident. Mohit Sharma's chance may have come at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday morning when his namesake, Ishant Sharma, was withdrawn from the World Cup squad.
A few hours later, six overs and 62 runs later to be precise, his chances of playing a significant role in the World Cup may have disappeared, almost as predictably as the full-tosses and half-volleys he served up. If that was his chance to stake his claim to fill Ishant's shoes, he may have blown it.
Fortunately for Mohit and unfortunately for India, such is the paucity and quality of their fast bowling attack, one poor showing in a practice match may not prove terminal. It may well be the case that India have to pick from a sore and sorry bunch of bowlers, low on confidence, lacking in basic skills, short on fitness and too full (or short) in length.
Yes, my assessment is harsh because these lads have potential and could surprise anybody in the knock-out stages but rarely does potential win you a major tournament. World Cups are littered with examples of great performances by players who transcended potential and delivered the goods, under pressure.
I wouldn't wager my dog's kennel, let alone my mortgage, on India's bowlers to hold their nerve under fire. Their execution of death bowling skills is amongst the worst in world cricket at the moment. And that's no mean feat in an era of atrocious death bowling from most professional cricket teams.
Before I digress too far though; somebody please tell me how Ishant gets so badly injured that he is withdrawn from the squad when he hasn't played for more than a month. This is a system that employs multiple 'experts' who stretch, massage, rehabilitate and rebuild cricketers so they can play cricket and someone in their care, who has not bowled a ball in anger for nigh on six weeks is now ruled out with injury. And no one in the BCCI is asking questions about how this can happen?
Apart from accidentally stepping on a ball or being hit in the nets, one can only draw the conclusion that the more time a cricketer spends in the hands of the medical staff, the less chance he is of being fit. It's like that old joke about never allowing yourself to be sent to hospital because more people die in hospital than anywhere else. Or if you're feeling unwell, for goodness sake, don't lie down because most people die lying down!
Stay away from 'em
In the case of cricketers the world over, my advice would be to steer clear of the medical staff. Just keep bowling, pretend those little niggles are a natural side-effect of hard work and play on. The modern cricketer, perhaps influenced by the medicos who need to justify their jobs, has become a hypochondriac.
They appear to be more susceptible to injuries sustained when doing nothing more than what their standard day at the office entails. Rohit Sharma makes one decent score on the whole tour and injures himself for a few weeks. Did he pull a muscle when he was waving to the crowd when he got to double figures?
India are by no means the only victims. Mohammad Hafeez made a rare score last week and promptly injured himself to the point where his World Cup is now over. He didn't get hit by a bouncer, break a finger or smash into the boundary hoardings. He did it whilst batting, doing the routine things that he is meant to do as part of his sole occupation as a professional cricketer.
James Faulkner did his injury whilst bowling. Fancy that? Mitch Marsh at the Gabba? Four overs into his spell and tears a muscle, doing exactly what the medical staff had supposedly prepared him to do.
The format of this World Cup may just give India a glimmer of hope though. The first few weeks are irrelevant — the big boys should get through to the quarter-finals and then it's just straight knock-out. India are timing their run perfectly! They're out of form at the best possible time. If they can peak at the right time, wait for the other teams to lose form and lose key players to injury (or suspension) and get lucky on 'tired' pitches by tournament's end, they may still surprise
We know they can chase anything down if Virat Kohli can find his mojo again so it's just a matter of whether the bowlers can limit the damage. For those who think the pitches will not favour the Asian teams, think again. Australia, proud winners of the Asian Cup (soccer) start as favourites so if they win, is this a triumph for Asia? It goes to show ridiculous the football victory is because most Australians do not consider themselves Asian in any respect, except when it's convenient.
On a more serious note though, India are determined to prove that the pitches will play no role in their strategy. Watching them bowl towards the end of the innings on Sunday, it was clear that they had no intention of landing the ball on the pitch. Full toss after full toss, boundary after boundary, each one followed with a rueful smile and a repeat of the same ball. World Cup cricket? Try World Series baseball instead!
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player