John Gloster: It was fascinating to see Sachin Tendulkar’s injuries dominate headlines in the Indian media
John Gloster (left) with Sachin Tendulkar during the 2006 Mohali Test against England.

John Gloster has been a physiotherapist in the cricket world since 1997-98. Starting off with Surrey, he then worked with Bangladesh before settling in India and working with the Indian cricket team and Rajasthan Royals. The Mumbai-based Gloster spoke to Nishad Pai Vaidya about the approach of physios with the advent of T20 cricket, the pressures of being in the job in the modern sport and cricketing injuries versus those of other sports etc.

 

 

CricLife (CL): With your background in physiotherapy, how did you get into cricket?

John Gloster (JG): I did my physiotherapy degree in Australia and I then worked in private practice for a few years. Cricket came to me through Surrey in England. I went to England in 1997-98. My first introduction into elite-level cricket was with Surrey. I spent three years with them in a very successful period for them. In 2000-01, I was asked to go to Bangladesh, when they got their Test status. They approached me to moving there and help them out in their physio setup in Bangladesh for the Test team. The transition from English cricket to Bangladesh was quite a big one — culturally and infrastructure-wise. In those days, Bangladesh cricket had just started out and the structure wasn’t completely in place, it was challenging but a really good experience. From the end of 2004, I’ve been in India ever since. I was with the Indian cricket team for a few years and then in the IPL [Indian Premier League] with Rajasthan Royals. Cricket has been with me since around 1997-98. I was very fortunate to be given some great opportunities early on, which then led to other great experiences.

CL: In Australia, there are many sporting interests. Were you into cricket from the early days?

JG: In Australia, everybody follows every sport. We are all passionate about all sports. I was involved with other sports besides cricket. I was at the Institute of Sport in Canberra, working with Olympic athletes. I worked with rugby in England. I have worked with hockey, netball and the Australian Football League (AFL). You get to expose yourself to as many sporting disciplines as you can. The injuries you see, the preparation, all those things from different sports is very helpful. A lot of the things that have helped me in cricket I learnt through being involved in other elite-level teams. That multi-sport practice is important for a good sports physio. Sports have become so professional now, when you are dealing with the elite levels, you need to understand the intricacies of each sport. In cricket, it is important you understand the biomechanics, the movements and the technical side. Once you get to the higher level, you need to specialise in one particular sport because it is so complex. The grounding to get that knowledge comes from being involved with a number of sports. With the big money involved in professional sport, especially cricket in India, you are more accountable. The pressures are coming from sponsors, managers, player managers and the media. Revenue is driven not so much by the sport but by the advertisers and the individuals who play that sport. So, a lot of external pressures come on the physios. If the player is not playing because he’s injured, the questions are from the managers, sponsors and advertisers. If they are not playing, they are not visible. If they aren’t visible, they are not getting their money’s worth. That is an interesting part of the modern professional game, those sorts of subtle external pressures that you need to deal with as physios. It is important that your clinical judgment is not clouded by those pressures — putting them back early, playing them when they shouldn’t. That’s part of the modern game. You need to handle players very differently from what we handled them back in the 1990s. The volumes [number of games] and the pressures are so much greater.

CL: When you were with Team India, the media pressure must have been the most you’ve ever faced…

JG: Without a doubt. There was a fair bit of media pressure in Bangladesh. In India, the expectations are so much higher. When you are with a successful team, the expectation from the public and the media is that much higher. The biggest pressure I faced in India was certainly from the press. You just got to learn to accept that is how it is going to be. As long as you are happy with what you are doing, and you can justify your work and the players are happy, that’s what matters. There is going to be press that will be positive, some who will be negative. You just got to accept that as long as the players and the team management are happy, that’s all you have to worry about. That takes a while to get used to that, but your focus should never shift from the player’s best interest, which is a paramount. If you’re satisfied and it’s at the top of your agenda, your outcomes are directed to that, that’s all you need to worry about.

CL: Talking of big players: In John Wright’s book, he shared an anecdote where Andrew Leipus said that when Sachin Tendulkar got injured, the whole of India got an anatomy lesson. What is your take on that?

JG: Sachin had a couple of injuries when I was with the team with his elbow and shoulder surgeries. The media focus was on that. Nowhere else in the world would you see two or three pages of a newspaper purely dedicated to one injury; the explanations were quite ill-informed on some occasions. I feel for the player in that situation that they are under such scrutiny and pressure. Like I said before, as long as you don’t lose sight of the fact that the players’ best interests and the injury recovery is your primary goal, then all that media stuff just goes by. You just got to let it go. Whether it is Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or a Sanju Samson or any other junior player, your injury approach and management is identical irrespective of who it is. The media spectacle on a player because of who he is, can often affect some people when they are treating the player. It was really interesting period there, especially with his elbow injury, which was early in my tenure. It is a fascinating part of Indian cricket, to see the focus on one player. That in itself was quite daunting.

CL: You have worked in rugby and AFL as you mentioned earlier, which are quite physical in nature. How intensive is cricket when compared to them? I ask this in particular as the ball used is very hard and can hurt. Only last year, we saw the sad passing of Phil Hughes.

JG: There are risks in any sport as you know. Even though cricket is not a contact sport per se, there is physical contact with a very hard object. That cricket ball is unbelievably hard and if it hits in the wrong place, it can cause a lot of damage. But, in terms of the traumas I have seen in cricket versus those in AFL, there is no comparison because of the speed of that sport and the body contact. The injuries can be horrendous. I have seen some amazing injuries in AFL specifically contusions — with high speed impact — the head injuries, rib, leg and shoulder fractures. Your medical management of them is crucial. That taught me also about how to approach the younger players to get them tougher and to determine what their bodies can stand. A lot of young players in the subcontinent, from my experience, are not really aware of where their thresholds are especially their physical thresholds as they haven’t really pushed it. In Australia, we play body contact sport form a young age, so we are used to those knocks and the bumps. And it also serves to allow you to see how resilient you are. That is one thing that is lacking in some of the players in the subcontinent. Because they don’t have those experiences growing up, may be they could be a lot harder and tougher than they think they are. It is interesting trying to explore that with a lot of the players, extending their mental toughness and endurance a little — ensuring that they know that they have a lot more in them than they think they have. If you show a player that he has got another 25 percent in him physically, mentally, then that is a great reward. They can take their game to another level.

CL: You have been involved in the IPL with Rajasthan Royals. T20 cricket has seen players push the limits. For example, fielders are more ready to throw themselves around now than they were earlier. How much has your role evolved since the advent of T20 cricket?

JG: I think T20 cricket has been amazing opening up of the game from our perspective. It has made us more aware of recovery and the benefits of recovery on players because of the very short span between games and the high travel intensities. The emphasis has moved away from training to the recovery component. The quicker you can recover, the quicker you can bounce back and perform at the highest level in the next match. That has been a really interesting thing. The injury rates in T20 are as high as the other forms, as the intensity is so much higher — the physical intensity, the adrenalin and the scheduling. Like the cricketers, it has made us more adaptable and made us more flexible. It has made us think a lot more about how we approach the preparation in the pre-season. So, all the monitoring of players starts around November-December the previous year. We have four or five months of monitoring each international and domestic player to where they are fit physically, what their workloads are like. Even though it is a two-month window we are in, it is a 12-month commitment to those players. I make a concerted effort and Rajasthan supports me in that with me travelling around India to see players and see if they have issues. At the end of the day, they are out assets. It is like being involved in any business. You need to look after your assets and that asset needs to perform for you 100 percent come the IPL season. In order to ensure they are 100 percent, you have to monitor them through the year. With me being in India 12 months of the year, is a big advantage. The other franchises have physios that fly in and fly out for the tournament. Having a constant contact point is actually important. Lot of them aren’t playing Ranji cricket, some who do don’t have good support from the medical front. It is nice to go on the phone, jump on a plane and get to them and give advice as early as possible. The advantage of the IPL setup is that it has allowed us to look after the players throughout the year.

CL: Speaking of recovery time and the short gaps between games, you may have had a similar experience in county cricket where matches are quite close to one another…

JG: County cricket was an amazing experience. Back in the 1990s, you had to play Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a four-day game. Then there was a Sunday League game and then you’d travel Monday, train on Tuesday before the whole cycle repeats. That’s how it was for six months. It was absolutely unbelievable. We were based in London, but there were times when we were away for three or more weeks — travelling around England for match after match. If you look back at the Indians who have gone over to play county cricket, and especially the Australian players, those are the guys who have really benefitted. Like Zaheer Khan. Interestingly, most of them took their games to the next level after coming back. I am sure with them being more resilient and structured in the way they recover, a bit more able to plan out how they were going to do it, played a big part. It is something all players should experience, especially the Indian boys. It really is a tough environment from a physical point of view. All young Indian players should be encouraged to go and play in the UK. It is an avenue for them to explore themselves and learn how to prioritise in terms of fitness and their playing schedule.

CL: You have been in India for over a decade. How has the experience been living in Mumbai, particularly since you come from Australia?

JG: I was really lucky as I had a transition period. I went to England then to Bangladesh. Dhaka was an interesting experience and I really loved that. It also helped me make the transition to living in India a lot easier. Coming to Bombay was easy from Dhaka. Culturally, I was aware and I understood the sensitivities. That was really important. I would take those sensitivities back to the playing group and they appreciated that. India is my home. My wife is from Mumbai, my son was born here. It certainly has enormous amount to offer. I do go back to Australia quite frequently. As a city in terms of opportunity, in getting experience, and being able to take your career to the next level — you can do that here without any doubt. Indian cricket, India and Mumbai have certainly given me one of the most amazing periods of my life. This is my 11th year in India and it has been an incredible experience.

CL: Have you picked up on any language? I am sure it would be easier.

JG:  Thoda Thoda! (Laughs) My wife is Gujarati, not that I speak the language. When I was in Bangladesh, very few of the players spoke much English. I learnt a lot of Bengali. When I came to India, everyone speak good English. Sourav [Ganguly] was the only one who spoke Bengali when I was in the Indian team. I practiced a little with him, but I lost a lot of Bengali. But I have enough Hindi to certainly get by. I can certainly communicate with them effectively.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)

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