Gone are the days when the off-season meant time off for the Indian cricketers. Barely a month has passed since the players got a deserved break after a packed international calendar and already coach Gary Kirsten has called his wards back for training.
The idea behind the move, says Kirsten, is to gauge the team's physical condition and at the same time look to improve their fitness standards ahead of the busy new season, beginning next month with the ODI tri-series in Sri Lanka also involving New Zealand.
Kirsten supervised the fitness tests for eight players at the Mumbai Cricket Association Indoor Cricket Academy at the Bandra Kurla Complex in suburban Mumbai. The players who took part in the test were Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Dinesh Karthik, Subramaniam Badrinath, Pragyan Ojha, Ravindra Jadeja and Abhishek Nayar.
"The purpose was to meet with up the guys after they got some time off, so we made a decision way back in the West Indies that let's get together. That's one area we feel that we can work on as a team. We wanted to do a series of assessments and obviously this was the first one. We got a camp at the end of the month and where we are going to do some more and before Sri Lanka," Kirsten said after a nearly four-hour long session with his wards.
On Monday, Kirsten along with mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton and team physio Nitin Patel conducted fitness tests for players from the north, central and east zones. The players included Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Praveen Kumar, Suresh Raina and Ashish Nehra, who trained at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi.
Kirsten seemed satisfied with the fitness standards he witnessed during the two days, but emphasised that his team needs to work harder and improve further.
"It is really the beginning process of an era in our game that we feel we can do some work on. I was really happy with the way it went. The guys responded really well in fact they are in pretty much good condition or in condition that we would like them to be at this stage. Obviously there are improvements to be made and we understand that but we are very happy with the way it went."
Veteran Sachin Tendulkar, who missed the West Indies tour due to a finger injury, could not make it for the fitness tests.
"We have bought the squad that was in the West Indies. Obviously Sachin was part of that but he is unavailable today. We really could not get everyone available at such short time but he will be doing his tests in the next day or two," said Kirsten.
The South African also seemed confident that Virender Sehwag's rehabilitation after his shoulder surgery is moving in the right path.
"Sehwag is in rehab at the moment and he is going through that process. I think things are looking really good there. He will also be doing his assessment in a few days at the NCA. We are very happy with his progress and hopefully have him ready sooner rather than later."
Apart from Zaheer Khan, who has been ruled out for the rest of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery, Kirsten said the rest squad looks in top physical condition.
"There were a fair amount of niggles after we left or during the West Indies tour. Everybody has recovered pretty well. I spoke to Nitin today and apart from the ones that we know everyone is in pretty good condition," he said.
Kirsten had faced the BCCI's ire for pointing out that the busy international schedule had played a part in India's disastrous showing in the World Twenty20. So, it was but natural when he chose to be diplomatic when asked whether it was necessary for the Indian players to take part in the BCCI's Corporate Trophy ahead of the tri-series in Sri Lanka.
"I think it [Corporate Trophy] is the part of schedule of Indian cricket so we are happy with the camp when it is. We will obviously fit into the schedule," he said.
Kirsten also said he would prefer to have the camp for the Sri Lanka bound players at the end of this month.
"At this stage, it is not confirmed but we will have it in the end of August, probably in Bangalore."