Cricket has been a game of consistent evolution. It has changed over the period of time, right from the 1700s to the present day; skills, rules, and popularity have always kept on changing and evolving. The latest trend is the focus on fitness in international teams.
There can be arguments on which team is the fittest in the world today, but the Indian team has certainly been setting new benchmarks in fitness since Virat Kohli became the captain of the team. With the guidance of fitness coach Shankar Basu and enthusiasm of Kohli and co, the Indian team is not only demolishing opponents in cricket but in matters of fitness as well.
Kohli, Basu, and Shastri have put top priority on fitness and fielding with sights set squarely on the 2019 World Cup. Under their tutelage, the ‘yo-yo test’ became the mandatory fitness test and every player aspiring to be in the Indian team needs to pass this test. Any aspiring Indian cricketer needs to pass the 16.1 mark for the selection to the Indian team both senior and India A teams.
For those who are unaware or are curious to know what a yo-yo fitness test is, it is an endurance training exercise that involves velocity bursts, beep methods, and a maximal running aerobatic fitness test.
There have been times when players have not been able to pass this yo-yo fitness test and have been unceremoniously dropped from the squad, despite being in top form at that time. Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Washington Sundar etc have been victims of this obsession with fitness.
The recent casualties of this mandatory rule are Sanju Samson and Ambati Rayudu, who were picked in India A squad and for the ODI leg of the England tour respectively. However, both failed their respective yo-yo fitness tests and were dropped from the squad and replaced with alternate options.
The team management ignored the fact that both these players deserved to be in the team, given that they were amongst the highest run-getters in the recently concluded IPL 2018. While Sanju Samson piled on 441 runs in 15 games for Rajasthan Royals in the tournament; Rayudu played an important part in Chennai Super Kings’ tournament winning campaign with over 600 runs, including a century to his name.
Even Mohammad Shami was dropped from the Indian team for the historic Test against Afghanistan, as he failed to pass the mandatory yo-yo test and was replaced by Navdeep Saini in the squad.
Now questions are being raised over this obsession of mandatory yo-yo test that has been preferred over the skills and talents of many players.
Shankar Basu, who brought this mindset to the Indian team, is a former India sprinter, who represented India at the Asian Junior Championship in Tokyo in 1987. However, former head of fitness and conditioning at the Baroda and Vidarbha cricket associations, Suhas Pawar says, “Basu is a good friend of mine, but he is an athlete and trying to build a cricket team with methods that are used to mold sprinters.”
“Making fitness a key aspect is a great move but to make tests like Yo-Yo mandatory for selection is not an ideal in a sport like a cricket which is predominantly skill-based,” added Pawar, while talking to scroll.in.
There are positives in the yo-yo test, like players might not be able to hide small injuries or niggles since it tests individuals’ endurance and stamina over a time frame. The Yo-Yo Test also determines if a player is adequately fit to survive the hardships that are part and parcel of international cricket on a consistent basis. In today’s aggressive cricketing world, fitness is the mantra. Amazing fielding, fast running between the wickets, outstanding catches and lightning quick reflexes are the norm today and only a tremendously fit player survive on the field.
However, with every positive come some drawbacks. The mandatory yo-yo test is done at random and with domestic cricketers sweating it out on the field day in and day out, if they are called up for the Indian team, they might go for the fitness test without any preparation and might fail in the test, thus losing their hard-earned opportunity, despite having the necessary skills for success.
Cricket is more of a skill-based game where players spent hours to fine tune their batting and bowling skills. If the same fitness benchmarks were applied to the Indian team in the 1990s, many past legends like Navjot Sidhu, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and others would have struggled to pass this test; but leaving them out on basis of a fitness test would have been controversial, as their skills were way too good and helped in the betterment of the team.
Many fitness experts are of the opinion that the overnight importance given to the yo-yo fitness test can harm the Indian cricket more than helping it. As cricket is a sport of skills and yo-yo test determines the endurance of a person, both do not go hand in hand.
Many legends of the past like Inzamam and Arjuna Ranatunga made their legacy based on their skills. Even Shane Warne was not a fan of such drills and went toe to toe with then Australia coach John Buchanan over his insistence over data analysis and fitness.
Experts and former members of Indian team management argued that players should be given adequate time for preparation for the yo-yo test. One cannot be expected to pass the fitness parameters after playing three-four months of non-stop cricket. Some players also run very fast at the start of the test and taper towards the end, something that needs to be handled by the team management.
They are of the opinion that the yo-yo test cannot be the single criteria for selection in the Indian team since cricket is a multifaceted game that includes fitness, endurance, skills, mental strength, and not just the ability to run fast for a long period of time.
Yes, there have to be parameters of fitness levels to become a part of team India. But having just one parameter like yo-yo test for selecting players in the national team, that too in a skill based game, is not the right thing to do.
The team management should look to bring in a set of parameters that includes fitness, skills, performance, form and passing the yo-yo test as parameters to become a part of the Indian team.