Kohli, longevity and the fitness mantra | Crickit
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Kohli, longevity and the fitness mantra

By, Mumbai
Jul 23, 2023 08:23 AM IST

The former India skipper was proud of his focus on fitness after scoring his 29th Test century in the Port-of-Spain Test.

When it comes to the Indian men’s cricket team, one word that’s been heard repeatedly at tosses for some time now is ‘niggle’. For the second Test against West Indies at Port-of-Spain, skipper Rohit Sharma used that term to explain all-rounder Shardul Thakur’s non-availability.

India's Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a century against West Indies on day two of 2nd Test match(PTI)
India's Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a century against West Indies on day two of 2nd Test match(PTI)

Now, it could even be understood that ‘niggle’ is used as a courtesy to the player being replaced if the team wants to try a new combination. But that would be conjecture. For those on the outside, when players are ruled out due to niggles it simply means they have an injury.

It’s been a particularly challenging phase for the Indian team in this regard. On Friday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India put out a rare update on injuries to some of the most established players.

While Rishabh Pant is on the long road to recovery after his horrific road accident last year, Jasprit Bumrah, Prasidh Krishna, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer are all expected to regain full fitness soon after undergoing surgery.

That’s a lot of big names on the comeback trail. Even for India, which has a powerful cricketing ecosystem and wealth of talent, the senior team has been pegged back at different stages due to the absence of these key players.

Such a situation again highlights the importance of fitness in an era in which the game is played at such a high intensity. The Indian team has not been at full strength for many crucial games in recent times. The situation calls on every player to pay extra focus on fitness.

For inspiration, one doesn’t need to look further than Virat Kohli. The former India skipper has been the poster boy for fitness. He rarely goes a week without posting a motivational video on social media of his incredible drills in the gym.

In the ongoing Test at Port of Spain, after slamming a century and facing 206 deliveries, the 34-year-old spoke at length about his devotion to fitness and how it has helped him remain a cut above the rest.

“I live every day of my life like I’m an individual athlete,” Kohli told former Windies opener turned commentator, Daren Ganga, in a video posted by Cricket West Indies. “I look after myself in terms of training, recovery, sleep, physio sessions, and most importantly, my diet. It’s the commitment that you give towards the sport. When you’re not going through a purple patch, all these factors really help you to grind it out in the middle.”

Kohli added: “For me, my fitness is the most important thing. It helps me switch between formats pretty easily because I feel I can bat for 300 balls, strike at 170, play long innings in ODIs as well, and field with intensity all day long. Whether it’s a Test match, T20 or ODI, I’m just committed to playing the game at the top of my fitness abilities, and that I take a lot of pride in.”

It isn’t just batting that’s enhanced because of his fitness level. His strength and stamina, as the Indian team’s fielding coach T Dilip explained, also allows him to set the benchmark in fielding.

“From what I have seen, he (Virat) walks the talk.” Dilip told bccitv. “If he talks about fitness, he’ll be the first person to be there. Apart from his batting, he’s consistently been an attacking fielder. He’s just very careful about his fitness and it shows. Even after so many years, he’s our most attacking fielder.”

Over the past couple of decades, the Indian team has taken big strides when it comes to fitness and athleticism. But looking at the spate of injuries in recent times and the direction in which world cricket is heading, where teams like England are changing the game with their powerful ‘Bazball’ approach, there seems to be a need for another fitness revolution in Indian cricket.

There is no dearth of talent in the country, but the key is for these players to be available when they’re needed the most. The game is increasingly being played at high intensity, and to cope with it, fitness will have to be given paramount importance, especially as India look to add aggression to their game in the quest for ICC titles.

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