Cricket is seen by many as a sport which is based more on skills rather than the athleticism of the players, or at least that’s how it used to be perceived.
However, modern times have seen an increased scrutiny on fitness as a whole and sport is no exception to that. Cricket may have been slower on the uptake yet the modern game is full of elite athletes.
Gone are the days of players sporting pot bellies while on the field – although Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad is an exception to that rule. Nowadays, failing a yo-yo test can see one getting dropped from the Indian cricket team.
But how did this come to fruition?
Limited Overs Cricket Paves the Way
The advent of limited overs cricket – a speedier format than the five-day Tests that preceded it – led to more focus on players being fit, since the game was now played at a much quicker pace.
Whereas players could previously afford to take their foot off the pedal on occasion, the same was not possible during a game that was considerably shorter.
As always, there were exceptions to the rule – Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup with the portly Arjuna Ranatunga at the helm, whereas Pakistan were led in the early 2000’s by Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Yet the importance of fitness can be seen by the team which dominated cricket in the 2000s – Australia.
Not only did they possess some of the most talented cricketers of their generation, they also focused excessively on fitness and their players were all at the top of their game as far as fielding was concerned.
Other nations clearly caught on to this and the focus became even more intensified with the dawn of Twenty20 cricket.
With T20 cricket being played at a pace even more frenetic than ODI cricket, the demands from players changed considerably.
Fielding became an even more scrutinized aspect of the game, with players now expected to take what were previously termed as ‘half-chance catches’ on a regular basis.
Direct hits in the field – once considered the hallmark of the best fielders only – are also now the norm, with many players chided for not being able to hit the stumps when presented with the chance.
Team practices now focus on improving fielders, ensuring specialists are placed in every position – a far cry from the days gone by when weak fielders were sent to patrol the boundaries.
There is an increased level in the fitness of modern cricketers as a result, meaning that not only is the level of skill on display during cricket games high, but also the athleticism and overall play.