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Increased fitness could reform Indian cricket

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Fitness_Test_Yo_Yo_India_BCCI_CricketGone are the days when an Indian cricketer needed to excel in only his specialised department to warrant selection in the Indian team. With current captain Virat Kohli focusing intently on raising fitness levels, his troops to have the added onus of living up to the fitness requirements that have been strictly set in place in the national team.

Recently, India bowler Mohammed Shami and India A keeper Sanju Samson failed the important yo-yo test, which ruled them out of their respective encounters. Passing the Fitness Test has become a parameter for selection in India - a procedure that was initiated by Kohli, backed by then-coach Anil Kumble, and which has since been carried forward by team trainer and conditioning coach Shankar Basu.

The toughness of the test was in the news when two of the once-fittest cricketers, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, failed to cross the 16:1 mark; the minimum level that has been set by Basu. Since then, any cricketer who has failed to breach the mark has been dropped from the Indian side, irrespective of reputation or past records.

When MS Dhoni dropped the likes of Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid in the 2008 CB Tri-Series due to their “slowness” on the field, the news was met with widespread criticism, with fielding as a criteria for selection being laughed at. Ten years later, “go fit or go home” seems to be the mantra that is being followed.

So what exactly is the yo-yo test and what makes it so difficult?

The test has a player running back and forth between two cones, placed 20 metres away from each other on the ground. The player starts running towards the second cone at the start of a beep and should reach it before the next beep. The “shuttle” is complete when the player starts from the second cone and returns to the first one before the third beep.

A cricketer starts from speed level 5, which is one shuttle. The next speed level is 9 and also comprises of one shuttle. The next level of speed is 11 and has two shuttles, while level 12 has three and the next comprises of four shuttles. This keeps increasing till it reaches level 23, the highest yo-yo speed, which has not yet been breached. Each shuttle has a distance of 40 metres, with each player getting 10 seconds to recover before proceeding to the next shuttle. If he fails to reach the cone before the second beep, he is given a warning. Three warnings ends his participation in the test.

What makes the test harder is that with each advancement of levels, the time available for a completed shuttle reduces. Players have to run faster in each level to reach the next cone.

The Indian squad have set 16:1 as the qualifying benchmark, meaning that the players need to complete speed level 16, or cover 1,120 metres in 567 seconds. While the Indian standards can seem harsh, there are other nations who have a higher qualifying mark. New Zealand needs its cricketers to cross level 20, or 2,400 metres in 1,170 seconds, and West Indies has a qualifying mark of level 19. Even Pakistan has a tougher benchmark than India - each player needs to cross 1,560 metres in 778 seconds; something that Umar Akmal famously failed to do on the eve of the Champions Trophy last year.

Along with this, the Indian squad are undergoing DNA tests as well, which help reveal the genetic fitness blueprint of a player. This particular test helps improve a cricketer’s speed, endurance levels, recovery time, fat burning and increases muscle building. It gives an idea of the player’s genes related to his fitness, nutrition and health. His DNA is then compared to his body-weight and his diet for a comprehensive analysis.

This test allows the trainers to study each cricketer’s body and its demands, which in turn helps in figuring out their dietary requirements to maintain a particular fat percentage. The current body-fat percentage limit for an Indian international cricketer stands at 23.

While the DNA test allows a cricketer to see what diet and exercise suits him best, the yo-yo test improves his stamina and his recovery time.

Once a cricketer routinely starts passing the yo-yo test, his running between the wickets should improve. Strength, speed and aerobics are required to excel on the field - all of which are improved with the yo-yo test.

So, how has the test improved the Indian cricket team’s performances in the recent past?

A BCCI official stated that a player who can cover 20 metres in less than three seconds will be more impactful than a player who cannot. For example, the fielder who has a fitness level of 15 might not be able to reach a catch 15 metres away from him, but someone who has passed the yo-yo test will find it easier, able to reach a ball that is 20 metres away in 2.8 seconds. Hence, they are naturally preferred in the side.

This has been noticed in the field of play too, as the likes of Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey and Ravindra Jadeja have pulled off some stunning catches recently; something not expected of India till a few years ago.

Some of the oldest cricketers in the Indian side aced the test, with Ashish Nehra managing a score of 18:4 at 39, before he retired from the side, a score that exceeded even Kohli. Dhoni is one of the higher scorers but the record currently stands with Manish Pandey, who has crossed level 19. With Kohli keen on making the yo-yo test mandatory for selecting players in Royal Challengers Bangalore and the BCCI intent in having the fitness regime in place in domestic cricket, the fitness levels in India are set to go through massive reforms.

 

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