Once, viewer fatigue was the debate—as TV screens bombarded them with one live match after another. The fast pace and excess quantity blurred memory, one match blended into another, perhaps a shot or two stood out, but an entire innings or a bowling spell couldn’t be placed in context. Some focused cricket fans decided to then shun the irrelevant matches, the glitzy hit-and-giggle affairs, and watch only the ones that count—the top-of-the-summit clashes, Test matches.
But then, even Test players started dropping like flies, clutching enough parts of the anatomy to put together a new body from those injured parts. Matches in the recently ended England tour resembled one-sided affairs between an MCC XI versus a Wollongong invitational XX, not only because of untested greenhorns, but because once-toasted performers couldn’t do justice to their potential.
Cupful of woes: Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been playing nine days a month on an average. By Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Several experts have suggested that the reason for India’s poor performance in England—indeed the spate of injuries—is due to excessive cricket. The players have not complained yet, unlike international tennis stars, but is there any merit in the theory?
Consider these facts: Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has played eight Test matches, 19 One Day Internationals, two T20 internationals, 16 Indian Premier League (IPL) matches and two Champions League matches so far this year. That’s a total of 79 playing days (assuming no day was lost due to rain) or 214 hours on the field, most of it spent getting up and down as a wicketkeeper.
In other words, the captain has been playing for nine days a month on an average. No wonder, one remembers seeing him (though not in the just concluded England series) shake the hands of opposition players with his left hand instead of the right. Though his performance with the bat improved as the English series wore on, his wicketkeeping rivalled the antics of Pakistan’s Kamran Akmal in the ICC World Cup earlier this year.
Still, Dhoni is a remarkable man to have survived the rigour of the season. Rahul Dravid did not play as many matches, while V.V.S. Laxman played only Tests. Most of the others—Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan included—have been injured in recent months. India sent 27 players to England for four Tests, one T20 and four ODIs and one in three players got injured. Not a single game was won.
Players such as Sehwag and Gambhir played in the IPL, accentuating already existing injuries, and missed the West Indies tour. The former also missed the first two Tests in England, reached for the third and fourth Tests and promptly aggravated his injury.
The second school—which usually comprises workhouse fast- and medium-pace bowlers who played English county in addition to international tours—debunks the idea of excessive cricket, pointing to their own careers. But then the players who have been injured recently are the ones who play at least two out of three forms of the game at the international level and who played at least 12 matches in the IPL.
Kapil Dev, who hardly had any injuries during a 16-year career, sums up the situation best: “I did get injured... (but) I got off-seasons to recover from the strain of international cricket. Unfortunately, the current players don’t get off-seasons,” he told The Times of India recently.
At last week’s India International Sports Summit in Mumbai, Heath Matthews, sports rehabilitation specialist at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, stressed the need for recovery—something our cricketers don’t have time for.
Next up for the Indian players, after the ongoing Champions League, is an ODI series versus England (14-29 October). This will be followed by a tour by the West Indies for possibly three Tests and five ODIs (tentatively from 6 November). Then India begin a four-month tour of Australia (the first warm-up match is on 18 December) that will include four Tests, two T20 matches and a triangular including Sri Lanka. Not only does the packed calendar increase chances of injury, it also does not give the team time to acclimatize to different playing conditions.
At the beginning of this year, a declining Australia were considered easy pickings for the then No. 1 Test team. But with the Board of Control for Cricket in India and players repeatedly ignoring history, a re-run of the 1999-2000 tour, when India lost almost all matches, is on the cards.