Rajesh Chauhan is the first Indian physio to work with another Test country. Photo courtesy: Rajesh Chauhan
Rajesh Chauhan is the first Indian physio to work with another Test country. Photo courtesy: Rajesh Chauhan

Had Sachin Tendulkar not been as fit as he was, playing top-level  cricket for 26 years would have been impossible. Had AB de Villiers not been so lithe, he might not have become arguably the greatest batsman of his generation. Likewise, had Shane Bond been less prone to injury he might have retired as one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. In cricket, as in most sports, fitness plays a massive role in the overall success of a player. Rajesh Chauhan (no relation to the Indian off-spinner) is one of the men responsible for ensuring a player’s fitness. Shiamak Unwalla speaks to him about fitness and its relation with cricket. READ: Darren Gough: Virat Kohli one of the top ODI players

Chauhan, at 28, became the first Indian trainer to work with another Test-playing nation during his stint with the Zimbabwean national side. Chauhan hails from Himachal Pradesh, and is a Level 3 trainer, and a certified coach with the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, accredited to Australian Sports Commission. He has also had tenures with the Durham Under-19 Women squad and more recently with Virgo Super Kings (VSK) in Masters Champions League (MCL) 2016, where he worked with the likes of Graeme Smith, Brett Lee, Murali Kartik, and Jonty Rhodes, among others.

Excerpts from an interview:

CricketCountry (CC): How much is physical fitness related to match fitness? For instance, someone like Varun Aaron comes across as quite athletic but he is prone to injury. Why do you think that is?

Rajesh Chauhan (RC): For any sports you need to be physically fit and should be training properly in your off season and in season to reach your peak fitness level at the right time. It is simple: the more you can delay the fatigue, the more you will be more involved in the match. READ: Shane Warne is my idol: Yuzvendra Chahal

Any fast bowler who bowls quickly needs to be looked after properly. Due to the pattern overload and impact on ground during delivery stride, the shoulder, lower back, knee and ankles are always in the danger zone. I am sure with a set structure they have now, India should be capable of looking after promising players. I have not worked with Varun yet, so can’t comment on that.

Zimbabwe have some athletic cricketers. Photo courtesy: Rajesh Chauhan
Zimbabwe have some quick, agile cricketers. Photo courtesy: Rajesh Chauhan

CC: Who is the fittest player you have ever worked with?

RC: I have worked with players of different nationalities and in recent times. A few guys have impressed me on the field during my short stint with Zimbabwe, as they are pretty quick and agile.  I have worked very closely with Malcolm Waller, Sikandar Raza, and Luke Jongwe, and all of them are very exciting. However, John Mooney from Ireland sets the new standard on fitness. VIDEO: VVS Laxman faces tricky questions and offers some valuable advice on life

CC: You recently worked with VSK in MCL. Who would you rate as the fittest player of the team?

RC: We had a really good squad filled with legends. Considering the fact of age, honestly they were all putting in a great effort. Personally I never award fittest or worst, everyone has their strong points. For instance, Jonty Rhodes is still very quick, James Foster’s reaction time is one of the best, and Jacob Oram is loaded with power. Then we had Brett Lee who was bowling 140-plus kph. The kind of effort they all put during the training sessions is amazing. READ: Harshal Patel: Virat Kohli is the team joker at RCB

 CC: You had the 46-year old Jonty Rhodes in the team who has been retired for over a decade, whereas guys like Azhar Mahmood and Owais Shah are still active cricketers. Was there a massive difference in fitness levels in the team?

RC: Seriously, Jonty doesn’t look like he’s 46! I saw him taking a flying catch during one of our fielding sessions and throwing down hundreds of balls every session. Of course we had players from more than eight countries, and everyone came with a nice flavour and taste of fitness. I would say we had a really good squad. While talking about Azhar bhai he is still active and trains very hard both at the gym and on the ground. He is Mr 100 per cent. READ: An interview with an Afghanistan cricket fan

Rajesh Chauhan (left) said he could not believe Jonty Rhodes was 46 years old given his outstanding fitness. Photo courtesy Rajesh Chauhan
Rajesh Chauhan (left) said he could not believe Jonty Rhodes (right) was 46 years old given his outstanding fitness. Photo courtesy Rajesh Chauhan

CC: Which cricketer or cricketers have you found the most challenging to keep fit?

RC: At international level, since they have gone through the process of keeping fit and exercising regularly, it is not too hard to keep them fit. For most players it is part of routine to hit the gym. You need to know how they have been training in the past, and where you want to take them. READ: VVS Laxman: Zaheer Khan will be very good in moulding young Indian fast bowlers

The real challenge is young kids as what you reap is what you sow. I am a big fan of developing young kids at the right time. For example if you teach young kids who are below 13 years of age how to run properly, how to use their hands while running, how to sit properly, then you will have a better sporting culture. At Future Legends Cricket Academy in Dubai (www.futurelegendsca.com) where I manage fitness coaching, I make sure every student is managed properly and put through proper drills and recovery, since I believe the difference between legends and ordinary cricketers is their fitness to go that extra mile. READ: VVS Laxman: Virender Sehwag respected a lot of bowlers, but he never spared them

CC: Do you notice a trend where players of a certain country tend to be fitter than others? If so which country?

RC: Yes, sports are in the culture of many nations. Parents prefer to remain outdoors hence take their young kids to the beach or to watch rugby or even soccer. South Africa and Australia have exemplary sports culture and that is evident with the kind of cricketers they produce who are natural athletes without exception. READ: Sachin Tendulkar handing debut cap was most memorable moment: Jasprit Bumrah

CC: Likewise, are there players of any country who are generally not as fit?

RC: Well it is about who is training where and what program they follow, if they have been running all year around on a road, or have not been told how to train in season or offseason properly, then nationality does not matter; anyone can fail a fitness test in those circumstances. READ: Henry Davids: IPL is the best T20 tournament in the world

CC: What do you think makes players like Misbah-ul-Haq, who are past 40, fit enough to keep playing?

RC: I strongly believe that the connection between the heart and the brain and passion for cricket keeps them going every moment. READ: Amol Muzumdar: KL Rahul will turn into a fine cricketer for India

CC: Which sport in your opinion is the most physically demanding?

RC: Every sport has different requirements. Motor sports and boxing hits the list for me, for sure.

 CC: And finally, what do you think is the ideal way for a cricketer to stay match fit?

RC: Follow a periodised programme, avoid over-training, develop strength and endurance during off season, and focus on maintaining your mobility and power during in-season. Also, play different sports in off season, go for swimming, do yoga, and try to sleep for at least 8 hours every day. Eat on time, and eat healthy food. Fitness is not a goal, it is a journey. Most importantly, always listen to your trainer!

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)