Fitness and Cricket have been the worst of enemies for the longest period. However, with the changing formats of the game, the relationship has slowly built on to engrave a bright future. After all, as the old saying goes, fortune favours the brave, well fit in this situation. If history were to be revisited there was a point in time when the little master back then, Mr. Sunil Gavaskar spent hundreds of balls in scoring early two digit runs and on occasions even getting off the mark. The one day games weren’t any different. Back in the day the game was played for 60 overs and 300 plus scores were as rear as discussions of peace amongst the Indian and Pakistani governments. Many argued that Cricket then was a game which represented patience. I wonder what the Chess players had to say about that.
The point being, that scoring was lesser and so was the intent. The format was such that any amount of runs scored were defendable or achievable even if one had a poor strike rate of 50 in a One day International format. Poor in the context of the current standards of the game where the 50 averaged yesteryear players who commentate now term a strike rate of 75 average or at times healthy! Hypocrisy much?
It all began with Tests, moved to One day Internationals at 60 overs which evolved into 50 overs to T20’s and only T20’s today. Not only has the style and people changed but the equipments and attitude towards playing a game has also changed.
Perhaps a theory which could be later studied in schools called Commercialisation of Cricket. If you are a kid that grew up watching cricket in the 90’s you were definitely a lazy kid. The game as the process of watching it all together was.
There were cricketers, rather legends who were labelled for their unfit body language who also happened create history back in the day. How could one forget the Pakistani great, Inzamam Ul Haq who was also labelled as the lazy giant. Well he was just 6.1, how was he a giant. But lazy for sure. His running between the wickets were definitely the biggest example of the same.
Those were the days when Cricket was more about batting and bowling. After these two tasks were done, then came fielding. It was almost like saying that fielding was more like a favour the players did to the game.
Sourav Ganguly was yes an exceptionally catcher, but his ground fielding had a different story to narrate all together. Ace commentator Ravi Shastri could often be recalled saying, ‘and sourav Ganguly escorts the ball to the boundary’ as the former Indian captain literally ran along with the ball till it almost reached the boundary and then he threw it back which took almost four bounces to reach back to the keeper or the bowler. Moral of the story, lack of fitness. Anil Kumble too was an ace example of bad fielding. The man 20 or 40 always looked 50. Somehow he always behaved that way as well. The legendary bowler though had his worst enemy in fitness. There has to be credit given to him though. He seldom attempted a dive and whenever he did, it looked more like crawling over the ball which made no good to his attempt of stopping runs. Steve Waugh, Arjuna Ranatunga and many more greats were a part of this brigade and the list will never seem to end.
The first sign of fitness on the field was briefly discovered and displayed by Ajay Jadeja who was then an example of agility. However, real examples of fitness on the field was brought in by Robin Singh, the only legit all rounder back then. Robin Singh made it to the Indian team just before he turned 30 but his dives and catches were that like an 18 year old. People in his precense remembered a window in cricket called ‘run outs’. He was backed by the much younger and fitter Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif later on to have somewhat a respectable fielding side for a brief period. However, the world was preparing for the T20’s.
A format which was not only new but also a format which most cricketers were unaware about, at least the treatment that was to be planned towards it. As the batsmen decided that attacking was the only way out, the team realised that the bowlers need to team with some of the most exceptional fielding that the world has seen to defend such scores. One team lead the way in Australia and the world followed. Today there is hardly a team which could be called a poor fielding side. A drop in a high catch which was once called a difficult chance is today termed as a sitter. Today, fitness plays a very important role in the identity of Cricket. Without the fitness on field with the amount of T20 matches played internationally and at the domestic levels, loss would be the only option.
The aggression in the modern game is not just limited to bat or ball. Now, a spectator watches the game not just to see the boundaries smashed but also see some phenomenal saves which adds to the aggression of the game. 10 years ago, if one was to discuss a game, it would usually end up with the excellence in batting or bowling but today, fielding too has featured in such discussions. A formidable fielding unit is almost like an unstoppable unit.
The aggression that fielders put on display has also been a cause for raising the moral of the game. As Virender Sehwag rightfully put it, “Cricket is not like a government job where retirement age is fixed at 60. A cricketer can retire at 30 or 60; it’s up to the player.” Moral of the story being cricket can now be a fairy tale or an action film, depends on the player, he can either ‘escort the ball to the boundary’ or ‘fly like hawk and grab the ball amidst the air’.