AB De Villiers' exit and Virat Kolhi's injury: How too much cricket is becoming a pain in the neck
An overloaded schedule, combined with the pressure to play all three formats of cricket, is causing players to get fatigued and driving talent out of the game
“Stop the world and let me off. I’m tired of going round and round,” sang Patsy Cline in the mid 50s. I could almost hear AB De Villiers sing that song as he got out of the cricket dressing room and shut the door behind him, earlier last week.
AB, 34, announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Wednesday, at the Titans’ training centre in South Africa, after a grueling IPL season for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and a couple of mentally-sapping Test series against India and Australia. In a Twitter video, he told his fans that he was tired. He confessed to have run out of gas and that he would now like to spend time with his family.
One of the finest cricketers ever, and a gentleman through and through, he played 114 Tests, 228 one-day internationals (ODI) and 78 T20s in a career spanning 14 years. By the end of that short farewell speech from AB, I had tears in my eyes. I had suddenly realised—as would have a million of his fans from all over the cricketing world—that I would never ever see the great man on a cricket field again.
Close on the heels of the unceremonious exit of one of cricket’s greatest talents, comes the news that Virat Kohli–another great talent–is injured and that he may not play for Surrey this summer. Kohli’s plans to get acclimatised to English conditions before the India-England series, therefore, have come to naught. What has bothered most of his fans, though, is whether he will be able to recover–if at all–in time for the all important series in Old Blighty.
Kohli had injured his shoulder last season and had barely recovered from it before he played the ODI series against Australia in September 2017. In a busy season, amidst which he also chose to tie the knot with Anushka Sharma, he played against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa in Tests, ODIs and T20 matches.
The India skipper, with his special diet and punishing training schedule, is said to be the fittest cricketer around; besides, he works extra hard on his technical skills, both batting and fielding. His body is therefore primed for the effort that he puts in during matches, be they Tests, ODIs or T20s. He is not, however, immune to impact injuries like the shoulder wrench he received last season. In fact, the neck ‘sprain’ that doctors claim he now has could have even arisen from his earlier injury, not having had the time to recover from it sufficiently.
Having worked with both cricketers and footballers on a professional level, I can vouch for the fact that the intensity of training for cricket is now as high as that for football, if not higher. Cricket is no longer the game for ‘flannelled fools’ that George Bernard Shaw had written about in the early 20th century. Football matches, at the professional level, are spaced out and provide time for recovery. Cricket matches don’t.
In this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), star players like Mitchell Starc, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Santner and Jason Behrendorff had to stand down because of injuries. Kagiso Rabada decided to miss the billion-dollar league because he was ‘overloaded’. Kedar Jadhav and Zahir Khan (Afghanistan) walked out mid-way through IPL 2018 with injuries, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Andre Russell and Raina were lucky enough to recover in time for the play-offs.
These injuries are nothing but a result of the ICC’s overloaded schedule, with most players opting to play in all three formats of the game. Cricket at the top level now offers good money. Ironically, it is this lure of the lucre that is also driving talent out of the game, from mental and physical fatigue.
It is also surprising that these injuries seem to be happening with every team—Test, ODI or T20—having top-class support staff for strength training and conditioning, fitness and mental training, physiotherapy etc, besides having on board the best doctors and masseurs in the business.
Last season, RCB had quite a few players on the injured list. When De Villiers too decided to sit out one IPL match because of a ‘dodgy back’, Brendon McCullum, who was then playing for Gujarat Lions tweeted, inquiring about AB’s back and then suggested that head coach, Dan Vettori could perhaps turn up for RCB. On a lighter note, with the number of injuries during IPL–at the end of a busy season–some day in future editions of the league, we may actually see coaches and support staff in the match lineup!
I have often mentioned, in previous columns, of how ODIs have now become redundant. In fact, England is now experimenting with 100-ball matches and the shortest format of the game may get even shorter. Therefore, in order that players get more time and space between matches, ICC would do well to scrap 50-over matches entirely from the international cricket scene. That would perhaps be the easiest way of prolonging player careers at the top level.
Last season, KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma too suffered shoulder injuries. During Mumbai Indians’ final match in IPL 2018, while attempting to hold onto a sharp chance at point, Sharma again yanked his right shoulder and had to walk off the field. Players can’t recover from injuries by cosmetic treatments, they need sufficient rest. This aspect of recovery and rehabilitation has to be understood by all concerned, including the board, the selectors and the team owners – when it comes to IPL.
In a recent video, Virat Kohli challenged India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to post a video of him performing a fitness exercise, under the #HumFitTohIndiaFit challenge. In view of Kohli’s recent fitness problem, I won’t be surprised if Mr Modi decides to tweet a video of exercises to strengthen the neck!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness trainer.
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