March 21, 2007

All fun and Games?

Sports teams today at the highest level play such an intense level of sport and the players are expected to be fitter today than they ever have been. Gone are the days when professional footballers would sit down and have a fried breakfast before a match and even the days when you’d see snooker players sitting beside the table with a cigarette in hand and a mug of tea on the side. Today’s diet includes fish, white meat, carbohydrates and water while red meat, sugar, and dairy products are strictly off the menu.

But is cricket a different game? Shane Warne was famous for his smoking at the breaks during play and it didn’t stop him from being the best spin bowler the world has ever seen. Cricket being the sport that it is though breeds different types of players. The batsmen don’t necessarily need to be fast on their feet (Inzamam-ul-Haq being a perfect example) but it does help with running in between the wickets.

Indeed it is definitely possible for a batsman to play while not being fully fit, although not advisable. Out of determination to be the captain to lift the urn, Steve Waugh did after all scored a brilliant 157* on one leg at The Oval in 2001, after being denied a runner because he entered the match with his injury.

There is more pressure on fielders today than there were on fielders a decades ago, with everyone in the international arena being expected to be an all round fielder. But there are certain fielders on the pitch who won’t be required to make much of an exertion if they can be relied on to catch well. For example the slip fielders or the close-in catchers such as those at silly point will not need to run much or make many diving stops. So it is entirely possible for the less agile to be able to make it at the top level.

What about bowlers, then? Again the variety of the game means that it is entirely possible for there to be a variety in fitness levels. A spin bowler trots in off only a few paces and doesn’t have as far to walk back in between deliveries.

This is not to say that it is not hard work being a spin bowler, spinners are often asked to bowl long and tiring spells but it is more an issue of stamina than physical fitness.

Fast bowlers, however, have to be of the utmost fitness. They often run in off a lengthy run up, regularly bowl over 80mph then walk back and sprint in and do the same again.

So do only fast bowlers need to be at top fitness? Not at all, if a batsman or slow bowler is completely fit he will be able to spend longer at the crease or bowl longer spells, will be less susceptible to injury, will be able to put in that extra burst of running when necessary and will in general give themselves the edge over their opponents.

It is for this reason that it the late night shenanigans of six members of the England squad are not to be taken lightly. By all accounts a group of men are allowed to go out and have fun but they must not forget their responsibilities.

The average footballer will lose seven pints of fluid in a 90 minute football match; I can only assume that a cricketer will lose more than this during a 6 hour ODI in the hot Caribbean sun. The post match pint is a part of cricketing tradition but is it really the best thing for an international cricketer playing in the middle of a World Cup who needs to be at the top of his fitness?

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that the body will release more liquid in urine than it takes in. This means that drinking alcohol will make the body more dehydrated than it was before drinking which among other things can lead to fatigue and a loss of endurance and stamina.

Alcoholic drinks also take longer to be absorbed into the body than water so will not provide as quick a relief to dehydration as non alcoholic drinks will do in the short term either.

The timing of the late night bender could have been much better too. The night in question was after the England v New Zealand match and after having lost that match it was imperative that the team won their next too matches which were against Canada and Kenya.

With the Canadian match less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the New Zealand match the squad needed to maximise the time they had available to them for training and tactics. The incident involving Flintoff and the Pedalo reportedly took place at 4am which even if not drunk would mean that the players involved would be excessively tired when turning up the next day for training and would not be able to apply themselves fully. Factor in a hangover and the actions prove even more irresponsible.

The issue is made even worse by the fact that two of the team management were involved too, Jeremy Snape and Kevin Shine were both sighted in the nightclub with the 6 squad members and have been asked to submit themselves to voluntary fines by the team management.

Cricket today is an intense game when played at an international level. Fielding sides need to be on their toes to prevent quick singles, to save the two, to take that difficult diving catch. Batting sides need to be fit and agile to make those ones into twos or to play those innovative shots we see today. Such an intense level of play requires and demands a high level of professionalism to maintain fitness and to be able to compete at the highest level.

It can be understandable, even if not forgivable, for the younger members of the squad to be caught doing these things but I would expect better from senior members such as the vice-captain Andrew Flintoff or the coaching staff. If England are going to make a turn around and come good in this World Cup and in ODIs in general they need to get the right attitude towards the game.

Steve Waugh talks in his autobiography of when Bob Simpson and the Australian team management imposed an alcohol ban on the team at a time when Australia were struggling in Test and ODI cricket. This was a move which I am sure, although it would have been unpopular at first, would have contributed to the start of what was the rise of Australia to the number one spot and to becoming the best team to have taken the field in the game of cricket.


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