Way back in the 1997/98 season I clearly recall Gary Kirsten talking about the power and value of rest. It was an almost completely alien concept in South Africa cricket at the time so he was scowled at and encouraged to keep his ‘soft’ views to himself, but every year since then there has been another inch conceded to the concept that rest can be better than training.
India have reached the pinnacle of the game for the first time in their history and, one day, when Kirsten and Paddy Upton write a book, the rest of the cricket playing world might understand how radical their coaching approach has been. Partially because of their belief in rest, and partly because of India’s absurd schedule, the players do less physical training than any other team.
In order to be as fresh as possible for every game, and to stay as fresh as possible in between them, the Indian national players have been encouraged to concentrate more on things like diet and yoga than gym, weight training and 10 kilometre runs. They have also been encouraged to find out what form and amount of training works best for them as individuals and then to pursue that course of preparation. Even if it involves doing largely nothing – which it does in the case of several players, like Virender Sehwag.
South Africa’s players have come a long way since the days of General Wessels and Sergeant Major Cronje but there remains a puritanical guilt about taking rest. It almost has to be done in secret. Whereas Kirsten was the exception prepared to say “I’m mentally and physically knackered and could do with a break” after two months of facing Glenn McGrath with the new ball, the vast majority of today’s players would be as reticent about volunteering to take a game or two off as they were back then.
Which is why, if you see a Protea player in the next week or so, he may be furtively lurking behind a baseball cap pulled low and dark glasses. He gets paid lots of money to represent our country and make us proud so he worries what we may think if we see him ‘relaxing’ – and heaven forbid with a beer in his hand.
Well, the schedule may just have worked out perfectly. Think what the Australian and English players will feel like having only three days at home after their very important and relevant 27-match one-day series. Three days at home before they fly to India and Bangladesh. Graeme Smith and his men, on the other hand, will have had a full two weeks to water the pot plants, sign autographs for the neighbours children and sleep in.
“I am thoroughly enjoying the time off,” admitted Smith. “World Cups are especially draining, both on and off the field, but at least I know what to expect and I want to make certain I’m in a really good space when we arrive on the subcontinent.”
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