Abbottabad: They were scared at first, but Pakistan’s cricketers have emerged from 15 gruelling days of army training in peak condition, instructors say.
The 20-member squad had been confined to a spartan military base in the northwestern city of Abbottabad in a bid to improve fitness and discipline.
Shoaib Malik’s men will need to be in good shape for the coming season, which starts next week with a trip to Scotland to play one-day internationals against the hosts and bitter rivals India.
Pakistan—still reeling from the death of their coach Bob Woolmer the day after their World Cup exit in March—are also due to host world number two South Africa and number one side Australia.
Fitness has been Pakistan’s weakness in recent years, with Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Abdul Razzaq’s absence from the World Cup considered the main reason for a humiliating first-round exit.
It prompted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to ask the army for help. And it just so happens that the PCB’s patron is none other than the country’s military ruler, President General Pervez Musharraf.
“The players were initially frightened about the concept but once they started enjoying exercises they did extra work,” instructor Major Mohammad Arif said after a trekking session this week. “They are now demanding similar camps in future,” he added.
Arif said the course, which ended Friday, would leave them ready to face Australia.
“Sports mean fitness and if the players continue to train in army ways, I am sure they can compete with Australia in fitness,” Arif said.
The Aussies conducted a similar camp in Queensland last year intended to sharpen fitness and mental strength ahead of the Ashes against England. They thrashed their rivals 5-0.
“Australia have won three World Cups in a row, simply because their mental and physical strength are exemplary,” Arif added.
The army trainer described mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi as the fittest player in the Pakistan squad, and said injury-prone paceman Akhtar would benefit most from the course.
“Akhtar has strength but he needs to increase his stamina and flexibility. His lower body is heavy but I am impressed with his determination and will to do extra work,” said Arif.
Akhtar is convinced the experience will work wonders.
“We trained the best way and I am sure these exercises will help me in the long run,” said the so-called “Rawalpindi Express”, who has played just one Test in the last 16 months.
During the course, players rose early and trained in two groups. Half would do physical exercises while the rest worked-out in the gym.
“The theme of this training was to make players strong and through training and lectures we told them how they can prevent injuries,” said Arif.
The players lived in the army mess and also followed strict dress codes and timings, something manager Talat Ali said, would improve their discipline.
“It’s nice to see players turn up on time for meals,” said Ali, a former Test opener.
And Pakistan’s young captain Malik, appointed after Inzamam-ul-Haq stood down following the World Cup, said the players had the time of their lives.
“It was wonderful and there were no distractions for the players as in the camps held previously. We had a wonderful time and hope such camps are held regularly,” he said.