In 2000, Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the United States’ National Football League draft. As many as six quarterbacks were picked before the New England Patriots made their move.
Brady would lead the Patriots to five Super Bowl victories and is largely regarded as one of American Football’s all-time greats.
Because of his late draft selection, Brady is considered the biggest steal in the history of the NFL Draft. The 2000 draft has gained notoriety over the years with strategies of teams still a topic of discussion.
One of the most common theories to have emerged from these debates was that Brady wasn’t picked first up despite his reputation as an effective quarterback because scouts felt he was too small and would have struggled to compete in the physically taxing NFL.
“The NFL would have actually missed out on an all-time great all based on physical parameters?” former India physio John Gloster exclaimed. “Numbers don’t always consider certain intangibles...It’s always great to have the fittest person, but what you’re also looking for is the toughest individual.
“When s**t hits the ceiling fan you want someone who can roll up his sleeves and get your team across the line,” added Gloster, who was part of the Indian cricket team’s support staff during John Wright and Greg Chappell’s tenures as head coach.
It was during this decade with foreign coaches at the helm that physical fitness became a key attribute other than a player’s skills within the Indian national team.
The practice has today mushroomed in earnestness. The likes of Virat Kohli lead the way with a healthy lifestyle to boot. Such is the attention given to fitness in the current regime headed by chief selector MSK Prasad and coach Ravi Shastri that a failure to meet a certain mark is basis enough for exclusion from the team.
It is namely the Yo-Yo test that players have to pass in order to be considered for selection. It isn’t wrong to say that the Yo-Yo test has become the latest buzzword in Indian cricket circles.
Recently, two players – Mohammed Shami and Ambati Rayudu – were dropped from India’s squads after failing the mandatory fitness test. Rayudu had made the cut for the side after consistent performances in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League. His exclusion, though, reignited the fitness vs skill debate.
As Gloster says, having the fittest person in your team is always essential; it is the toughest who can go onto make the difference in crunch situations. But finding that person purely based on physical parameters might not be ideal. A team might just miss out on unearthing the next Tom Brady.
Dr Jens Bangsho, a Denmark-based sports scientist, is attributed to be the inventor of the Yo-Yo test. Bangsho, former assistant coach of Juventus FC and the Danish national team, introduced the technique as a way to help his players optimise training and improve endurance, and not for selection purposes.
“You have to be careful about using this as the sole test for selection,” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express. “You have to be always careful in using it as a selection criteria in sports like cricket. But whether you should use this for selection criteria is up to the federations but I would say you have to be careful, as there are other qualities that one seeks in a sportsman.”
The Yo-Yo test in its essence is a test of one’s endurance. It requires cones to be placed out in two lines at a distance of 20 meters. A player starts with his foot behind one of the lines, and begins running when instructed.
The player continues running between the two lines, turning when signalled by the recorded beeps. After each minute or so, the pace gets quicker. If the line is not reached in time, the player must run to the line turn and try to catch up with the pace within two more beeps. The test is stopped if the player fails to catch up with the pace within the two ends.
The test first made headlines when Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina failed it in 2017. Since then, though, it has grown in importance. Passing the test has become a mandatory criteria for selection.
India’s head coach Ravi Shastri even declared that the test is here to stay and would be essential to players making it to the national team. “The Yo-Yo Test is here to stay. If you can pass it, well and good. If not, you can take a walk. There is no room for error,” Shastri had said.
Skipper Kohli has led the way in this aspect. The 28-year-old is a livewire on the field and credits his fitness regimen as one of the key reasons for his consistency.
Considered to be the top cricketer of his generation, it isn’t a surprise that he has created a revolution in the minds of the budding youngsters. From diets to conditioning, all tools that assist the development of a healthy lifestyle have gone up a notch for almost all cricketers who are moving up the ladder in the domestic circuit. Many state teams have themselves begun conducting the Yo-Yo test.
The argument presented as justification for the arduous selection criteria is the hectic schedule of international teams. The greater number of matches leave players overwhelmed, leading to tapering of performances as the pressures of long tours start taking a toll on performances.
Former India bowler Balwinder Singh Sandhu, member of India’s triumphant 1983 World Cup team, though, disagrees in this regard.
“I don’t feel today’s cricketers play as many games as we did,” said Sandhu. “While international series weren’t as frequent as they are now, players then would play more domestic cricket and even play office tournaments to earn some money. Sunil [Gavaskar] even played the Kanga League.
“Despite the circumstances I would say all members of the team would be up to the challenge even on long tours,” added Sandhu, who was the first one to introduce video analysis for bowlers when he was the chief coach of the Mumbai Ranji team.
Players today spend hours in the gym and follow strict fitness diets that bar them from eating many delicacies. It is a far cry from the years of past when fitness wasn’t an integral part of training regimens. In fact, it was up to the players to engage in drills to keep themselves in shape.
“Working on fitness was the player’s prerogative,” said Sandhu, reflecting on his stint with the national team. “Training was largely restricted to the off season. “We did not have cones or beep test in our time to tell us how fit or unfit we were.
“I would run on the slushy grounds during the monsoon, which in our time was largely the off-season. Each one had their own methods. It wasn’t as professional as it is now,” he added.
As bowling coach at the NCA, though, Sandhu got with the times. A 15-minute run and a flexibility examination were just among a few tests that were part of the criteria that distinguished fitter players from the rest. “We would take an average of all the tests to monitor a player. But obviously, unlike today, selection was not based on fitness alone and skills played a larger role.”
The matter was recently raised by former India cricketer and ex-chief selector Sandeep Patil, who questioned how a trainer could take calls on selection matters.
Sandhu concurred with his former teammate, airing his reservations at the new trend. “Trainers today seem to be asserting themselves more after being given a higher degree of importance,” he said.
The former Mumbai coach, though, agreed that there is a rise in intensity in the modern game, especially in the fielding, which requires certain flexibility from the players.
“There is a need to keep a reign on players with strict regulations as there is a tendency to be complacent,” he said.
While no one denies that fitness is a valid concern of the modern game, it is the interpretation of these tests that require regulation, especially with physical parameters becoming part of selection criteria.
“The more physically fit you are, the more astute you are mentally on the field,” said Gloster. “Experience tells us the fitter the side, more consistent are their performances. Teams tend to see a consistent upward trend,” he added.
Gloster, though, isn’t sure if the Yo-Yo test is ideal for judging a player’s ability to play cricket at the highest level, but concedes that the current regime’s spate of positive results point to the fact that the system works.
“In my time, we would take test results as per individuals and set a mark for that player,” Gloster said. His aim was to show consistent improvement in his fitness levels. The current system demands that there be one common grade for all members of the team.
“So far, the results of this side show that the system seems to be working fine. It is a natural progression. To put it simply, the fitness flag has been hoisted. It is now up to the players to reach up to the mark,” he added.
Due to the uproar caused by the recent selection policies based on the Yo-Yo test, the BCCI’s Committee of Administrators’ chief Vinod Rai has sought an explanation over the reliability of the test.
The debate rages on.