By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Lack of supreme fitness, along with a sudden spike in workload and not enough recovery, has emerged as the main cause of soft tissue injuries that have afflicted the Indians on the tour of Australia as pace bowler Navdeep Saini became the latest injury victim when he limped off the Gabba ground due to pain in groin on the first day of the fourth and final Test in Brisbane on Friday.
Saini, who had earlier on the tour complained of back spasms, follows R. Ashwin (tweaked back), Jasprit Bumrah (abdominal strain) and Hanuma Vihari (hamstring), who all played the first three Tests but are not featuring in the fourth Test.
Earlier, fast bowler Umesh Yadav too had limped off the field during the second Test in Melbourne with a calf strain. Ravindra Jadeja, who has a dislocated thumb, was also suspected to have suffered hamstring injury during the ODIs.
Rohit Sharma has just returned from a hamstring injury, joining the team for the last two Tests, but is largely restricted close to the wicket on the field with minimal movement.
There have been unavoidable, freak injuries like the one to fast bowler Mohammed Shami, who fractured his arm after being hit by a delivery from Pat Cummins in the first Test, and Jadeja dislocating his thumb after being hit by a Mitchell Starc delivery in the third Test.
Those injuries can’t be put down to fitness. However, the other injuries show that the level of match-fitness of the players is not good enough.
Compared to India, the Australians had lost only David Warner to soft tissue injury — groin — in the Test series and he has somehow regained fitness to play the last two Tests.
Importantly, Australia’s four front-line bowlers — Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon — have bowled 435.1 overs in the first three Tests and are fit enough to play the fourth Test.
Apart from these four, they have tried two more in Cameron Green and Marnus Labuschagne, who has bowled just nine overs through the series.
In contrast, India have tried as many as 10 bowlers. Among them, Ashwin, Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj are the only ones to have bowled over 100 overs each. Two of those, Ashwin and Bumrah, are unfit.
Umesh and Saini have, however, bowled only 39.4 and 36.5 overs respectively which is why their injuries are even more surprising.
This is besides the fitness worries over their batsmen.
Nishanta Bordoloi, who was a fitness trainer with Delhi Ranji Trophy team and has also worked at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, points out to lack of enough cricket as a possible reason.
“Due to the pandemic, the bowlers probably haven’t had enough overs under their belt ahead of a gruelling Test series like this. There was a sudden spike in workload for all cricketers immediately after seven months of no cricket. They played the IPL and then suddenly entered the Test series. I’m not sure how much work they put in ahead of it, but the sudden spike in workload can lead to injuries,” he said.
Sports medicine doctor PS Mohan Chandran, blames the absence of supreme fitness ahead of five-day Test format which is very demanding.
“If you have to play a five-day game, you need supreme fitness. Their bodies weren’t attuned to that unlike other seasons. They were not fit enough to undergo such competitive five-day matches. IPL matches were intense but training was less and recovery was less too,” he said.
“At this level, and in these five-day games, you have to go all out as there is no compromise on performance. But exerting too much on a fatigued body can lead to injuries. The training was curtailed due to pandemic. When they went into the matches, the exertion was a lot but the general fitness was low,” Chandran added.
Chandran said that the players had a heavy IPL season “but before departure there was not much training and then they were quarantined in Australia where there was no continuous training”.