A camp to stop pace boom turning into a bust

Published: Sunday, June 13, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:India are furiously trying to fix the creaking joints and errant muscles of their talented pacemen in order to beef up their bowling attack ahead of a busy international season.

Recent years have seen a fast bowlers' boom in India, with Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji all playing big roles.

But the boom appears to be turning into a bust because of injuries to key bowlers, especially in the last season.

To skipper Sourav Ganguly's misfortune, India never had the luxury of a full-strength attack in Australia and Pakistan in the last two Test series.

That India still managed a creditable 1-1 draw against Steve Waugh's Australians before posting a historic Test-series triumph in Pakistan was mainly because of their irrepressible batting line-up.

Experienced left-arm seamers Zaheer (hamstring) and Nehra (ankle) were more prone to injuries as neither could last a complete Test series against Australia or Pakistan.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), worried over the bowlers' frequent breakdowns, has moved in to repair the damage by holding a camp for pacemen to assess their fitness as well as to find suitable back-ups.

Twenty-one fast bowlers, including internationals, attended the five-day camp in the southern city of Bangalore under the watchful eye of South African trainer Gregory King, the focus being on physical conditioning.

"A combination of high volume of cricket and deficiency of strength in some areas cause injuries," said King.

"In this camp, we gave importance to course stability, speed endurance and cardio-vascular training. There are some general exercises for players and some specific items for fast bowlers."

The camp, which concluded on Saturday, was held at the right time considering the hectic schedule beginning next month with the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, followed by home series against Australia and South Africa.

"We are playing a lot of matches in the sub-continent and this camp will help us back to our top fitness," said Balaji, 22.

"The last season was very good and we have to recreate the performance of Australian and Pakistani tours in the coming season."

The inexperienced duo of Balaji and Pathan, with a combined tally of just 10 Tests, shared the responsibility remarkably well in Pakistan as they played significant roles in their team's 2-1 win in the three-Test series.

Their success only reinforced the belief that the Indian attack could have been more potent if big guns Zaheer and Nehra were also fit to fire.

Zaheer said he was now feeling better and looking forward to the new season.

"Injuries are over and I have fully recovered now," said Zaheer, who has grabbed 83 wickets in 29 Tests.

"My current fitness is fine. I think I need to bowl more and more. I need some more bowling practice, which I have been doing in the nets now."

Nehra said he was confident of regaining fitness ahead of the busy schedule as he had been working hard to avoid injuries.

"All fast bowlers get injured, but I get injured more often. It's frustrating," said Nehra, who has taken 44 wickets in 17 Tests.

"I want to be injury-free. I am strengthening my lower body as I run quite a bit for my fast bowling stints and also suffer from injuries."

Ajit Agarkar, in and out of the team because of form and fitness problems since making his Test debut in 1998, said the competition for fast bowlers' slots in the side would now be more intense.

"It's always nice to have competition," he said.

"Balaji and Pathan have been doing well since the Australian trip. It only helps the side if there are more guys performing at the same time."

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