Virat Kohli Has Effected a Paradigm Shift in Team India’s Fitness
File photo of Virat Kohli.
File photo of Virat Kohli.(Photo: Reuters)

Virat Kohli Has Effected a Paradigm Shift in Team India’s Fitness

(This story has been republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Virat Kohli’s 30th birthday.)

In the recently concluded one-day series between India and Australia, the home team got the better of the visitors in every department of the game. But that's not what is bothering the Aussies the most. They were surprised and entirely zapped by something else. It was one aspect of the game they never related to Indian cricket – fitness.

One of the senior team management members of the Australian team took one of the Indian support staff to a corner and asked him:

What’s happening here dude, what are you guys doing. Indian cricket was always associated with skill and style but never fitness. How come Indian cricketers are becoming ‘athletes first’?

It takes a lot out of Aussies to praise someone, and admiring Indian teams’ fitness level shows they must have been enamoured by this development in Virat Kohli and his boys.

There isn't an iota of doubt that the current Indian side would go down as the fittest group of Indian players. Talent, temperament, finesse, skill and cricket acumen may have always been there but when it comes endurance, agility and core strength, this side has set a new benchmark.

Lot of planning, research, and step-by-step execution has gone into the makeover of this side. The catalyst of this change is the captain himself. Virat as a player decided to be an athlete first and cricketer later. He realised somewhere around 2014 that if he is fit and stable, cricket will take care of itself.

Virat Kohli clicks a picture with Shankar Basu.
Virat Kohli clicks a picture with Shankar Basu.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Viratians)

He was given this theory by Shankar Basu, the current strength and conditioning coach of Indian cricket team. Basu, who at that point was the trainer of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, convinced Virat to move away from meaningless training to ‘smart training.'

Virat went through a lifestyle change and did a detailed analysis of what he eats, how he trains and most importantly how he recovers, and the results were there to see for everyone.

Virat could always hit crisp boundaries but wasn’t known to clear the ropes easily earlier in his career. After going through Basu’s training, Kohli was hitting sixes, that too as long as 100 metres at times.

He started going to the gym before every match of the IPL, which sounded a bit bizarre. But the idea was to ‘prime' the muscles before the game. Now this is a quite a common exercise before India starts a match.

Virat bought Basu into the Indian set up, and supposedly, there was an initial hesitation.  Players were training in a particular way, and it wasn’t easy to break the conventional method. Basu was lucky to have Virat backing his training methods and Virat’s improvements in fitness started inspiring everyone.

He was full of explosive energy and gradually everyone started following the path to prime fitness.  If you sit with Basu you will hear concepts like, “addition by subtraction,” he would often say, “One must stop doing the wrong things, as well as doing the right things.”

Basu, who has changed the very fabric of Indian team’s fitness culture gives the entire credit to the captain. And it goes without saying that without Kohli's support and backing, all this was near to impossible. And also not that Virat was only preaching. Like a true leader, he walked the talk.

In the current Indian set up, players are trained to be self-trained. The idea is to make them understand their own body, their work-load, their requirements and prepare them accordingly.

Everyone is aware of how much they need to sleep, what they need to eat, how much they need to train, how they need to train and what they want to achieve.

This concept of addition and subtraction is followed at every step of planning. For example, someone like Mohammed Shami who has recovered from serious injuries will enter the nets knowing fully well how many balls he needs to bowl and at what speed and effort.

So in the current Indian set up someone who can run the most may not be considered as the fittest. But the one who can travel the distance with explosive energy to reach a near impossible catch would be regarded as fit. Intensity, involvement and exuberance are the operative words of this team.

Modern body testing methods like DXA scan and DNA testing are used to ensure that no stone remains unturned while preparing the players.

Umesh Yadav celebrates a wicket with his teammates.
Umesh Yadav celebrates a wicket with his teammates.
(Photo: Reuters)

The results are ominous. Umesh Yadav’s pace doesn’t drop at any given point of the Test match, be it the first ball of the first session or last ball of his final spell on the fourth day evening.  Bhuvneshwar Kumar has added minimum 5 km/h to his speed without losing his natural swing and action. Recently one of the Australian commentators went to the length of saying that this Indian side would be probably in the top two fittest sides in the world.

Indian cricket has come a long from the days when one use to hear stories like how former India coach John Wright once entered the gym and found one Indian player leisurely paddling the cycling machine, wearing sandals with a waiter standing next to him with tea and sandwiches.

Not long ago, the trainer use to push players to follow their fitness schedules and now trainer has to intervene and tell players to go little easy.

Nowadays, even after a long tiring Test match, the hotel gym is crowded with players following their regimes and recovery sessions. Recently Saqlain Mushtaq was zapped to see Virat and Pujara in the gym with everyone after scoring energy-sapping hundreds against England in the humid conditions in Vizag last year. He couldn’t believe the energy and work ethic of this team and agreed that this is a paradigm shift in Indian cricket.

(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)

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