It is perhaps a classic case of sub-continental overkill that fitness standards are given preponderance unlike New Zealand, where it is merely a perfunctory part of a professional cricketer.
India, and more recently Pakistan, have developed a strange fetish for a fitness level indicator called yo-yo test to the extent that it overrides a cricketer’s form, skill and on-field performance. Consequently, Ambati Rayudu became the latest Indian cricketer to be run-out by ‘yo-yo’. He has since been replaced by Suresh Raina for the tour of England later this month.
Other cricketers too have been stumped by ‘yo-yo’, with Raina himself failing not once but on two occasions and thereby losing his spot in the national team. Last month India A cricketer Sanju Samson was another wicket claimed by yo-yo. Earlier, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Shami and Washington Sundar too had flunked the test.
Pakistan, which has set a higher bench mark (17:4 to India’s 16:1) sent back Umar Akmal from England last year after he was said to have failed the test.
So what exactly is this yo-yo test?
Although yo-yo was devised 36 years ago by Montreal University’s Luc Leger, it was put together as a test for footballers by former Danish player and Juventus assistant coach Jens Bangsbo.
Not surprisingly, football and T20 cricket have much in common in terms of distance covered by players in time frames, start-stop-acceleration, more time spent in higher speed bands and so on. This is far removed from Test cricket or even ODIs. But that’s another matter.
The yo-yo test involves running between two points set 20 metres apart. The runs are synchronised with a software which beeps at set intervals. These intervals between beeps gradually shorten, thereby forcing the runner to increase speed.
The software is set for a starting speed of 8.5 kmph. The runner starts as soon as the first beep goes off. He has to reach point B before the second beep and finish the return to point A by the third beep. This is called the ‘shuttle’. The runner gets 10 seconds to wind down before setting off all over again.
The yo-yo test is basically a time-and-distance run with an in-built assessment of recovery capability. The jargon in the research paper refers to the recovery capacity as ‘Intermittent Recovery Test and Cardiac Autonomic Responses’.
The test calls for a starting speed level of 8.5 kmph. This consists of one shuttle. The next speed level, which is 9, also consists of one shuttle. Speed level 11 is a step up. It has two shuttles. Level 12 has three shuttles while level 13 has four. There are eight shuttles per level from 14 upwards.
The yo-yo standard for Indian cricketers is set at a minimum of 16:1. That is, they need to pace themselves to the beep in a manner that they’d be running at 16 kmph to cover 320 metres at this elevated level. Of course there is a 10 second winding down after every 40 metres run. Overall, from starting speed level to 16:1, they’d have to do 1,120 metres in 567 seconds of running.
New Zealand have set their level at 20:1 with the crucial difference that players won’t be dropped from the team if they don’t achieve that. The Kiwis take pride that some of their players are so fit that they have gone past speed level 22.
Among Indians, Manish Pandey has set the best standard at 19:1.
While India have elevated yo-yo test to an obsession, Australia’s new coach Justin Langer wants his team to be tough as nails mentally. He believes that “being successful as an international cricketer transcends the ability to play an elegant cover drive, brutal pull shot or belligerent forward defence. The best players are not only physically fit and technically sound, they are also extremely mentally strong.”
He wants a bunch of players who have the ability to consistently perform when under pressure.
Of course the Aussies have used GPS to do homework on fitness levels required for each task and their research on a David Warner innings revealed that scoring a 90 in an ODI called for 11 to 13 kms running between the wickets. A fast bowler who sent down 10 overs and also fielded would have run 10 kms during that period, the study revealed.
The Aussies research is to identify fatigue threshold as they believe that fatigue is a pre-cursor to muscle injury. Their primary aim is to minimise or eliminate that.
It must be pointed out that the Aussies have moved away from yo-yo and adopted the 2 km time trial for Test cricketers as they believe it to be more attuned to the aerobic fitness required for Tests.
While it is nobody’s brief that the yo-yo test ought to be done away with, BCCI needs to come up with a system where those who fail to make the cut are given a second test a few days later.
Sometimes, right after a hard season, the body needs time to recoup. This is particularly true with regards to age, climate, altitude, etc. This is one reason why some players fail the yo-yo test immediately after a tough, long season.
Additionally, Test cricket also calls for a different fitness standard and BCCI, like the Australian board, must look beyond yo-yo to sort that out. Otherwise we stand the risk of losing highly skilled players in search of a non-requisite. For instance, some of India’s top batsmen in recent times, Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, VVS Laxman, Saurav Ganguly, et al might not have passed any yo-yo test.
Likewise, would Inzamam-ul-Haq, one of Pakistan’s greatest batsmen, pass even a speed level 12 yo-yo test? Unlikely. For that matter neither would West Indies’ Chris Gayle.
Of course Indian cricket needs to build fitness into its eco-system. But this should be handled a lot more intelligently. Batting and bowling skills sets are developed over years of blood, sweat and tears. Players reach international status on the basis of their uncommon skills. To yank them off without recourse or a re-test is downright silly. It can cause more damage than good to the player, team and team spirit.
Tests like yo-yo or 2 km time trial should help cricketers find peak fitness not damage their career. Is anyone out there listening?