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'Tendulkar's tennis elbow is still a problem'

December 31, 2004 18:55 IST

Indian cricket team's physio Andrew Leipus emerged from the dressing room at Wankhede stadium, where the match between Mumbai and Delhi is being played, surprised to see a bunch of mediapersons waiting for him.

"How did you guys know I was here?" the Aussie asked quite oblivious that he is a popular man in India.

India's man from Down Under will return to Adelaide in February to pursue a masters degree in sports physiotherapy from the University of Southern Australia.

"I may be here till the Challengers, but I definitely won't be there for the Pakistan series. It will be a little disappointing though."

He hopes that the Indian cricket board will continue the association.

"I will speak to Mr [Jagmohan] Dalmiya next week. We have to finalise on a few things. I had suggested job-sharing with another physio, and return once I finish my four-month course. I am planning to do the next two years of the degree through correspondence."

Leipus has been a vital cog to India's success over the last three years, scoring memorable, and sometimes historic victories, at home and away. He took up the job in 1999 and along with John Wright and Adrian Le Roux ushered in a new era of professionalism.

"It wasn't easy when I came in. Everything had to be put into place. Even I had to earn the respect of the players. But it's a lot better now in terms of infrastructure, in terms of professionalism. It may still not be right up with the best, but its getting there," he said.

He is in constant touch with the state cricket associations and has provided them software for monitoring fitness regimes. Leipus also thinks that players who come up the domestic structure are sometimes clueless about the training methods at the top level.

"The systems are getting a lot better. The BCCI has funded gymnasiums in all the 27 states but I don't think there are right people to make use of the facilities. Sometimes the equipment is missing, other places people don't know how to make proper use of it."

Apart from setting up a cricket training system that filters down to the grassroots, Leipus wants to see other sports like hockey also look up for professional help.

One of the main reasons for him quitting the job was that he thought he was helping others develop but wasn't learning anything new himself.

"Like management experts, even we have to constantly keep updating ourselves to any advances in the field," he said.

Leipus used to hold physiotherapy seminars and workshops during his stint and was impressed by the quality of personnel in India.

"There is potential but I don't think lot of people want to work with the cricket team, either because of lack of funds, credibility or importance for the support staff," he rues. Starting gyms and catering to needs of personal clients are more profitable businesses.

"You see even the guys playing in Ranji get paid only Rs 30,000 per game, which is nothing. Professional talent is not going to get attracted at the domestic level if there are no rewards.

"The national team is still doing fine but I want the BCCI to build up a strong domestic structure.

"You always have players who are pro-active and others who are not all that eager. But since things are more professional now they have to fulfill certain criteria before they can be considered."

He wants players to be given a (fitness) programme during the off-season and it has to be followed by a trainer also so that the players give the desired results.

"If they don't fulfill the criteria then they may receive financial penalties," seemingly amused by the prospect of it, "or such things, we haven't really decided exactly what."

With Leipus and his thoroughly professional approach on the way out, the Indian cricket authorities may well give this suggestion serious thought.

Being in Mumbai, he couldn't escape enquiries about Sachin Tendulkar and Ajit Agarkar, who pulled out of the Ranji game against Delhi at the last moment.

"Ajit had lost a lot of muscle mass and the recovery was not as good as we had expected. So we thought it would be better to rest him because if he continues this way he may be susceptible to injuries."

Any hope of Tendulkar donning the Mumbai colours?

"No, definitely not this season. His tennis elbow is still a problem. I spoke to a couple of leading surgeons in Australia and they thought it would be better to rest it before going into the major games."

Like Tendulkar and Agarkar, Irfan Pathan was also advised to pull out from the last round Ranji match for Baroda. He had picked up a niggling injury in the groin when he fell on his knee during the first one-day international in Bangladesh.

In the past year, frequent injuries have crept into the Indian camp and Ashish Nehra has been a regular on the list.

"Ashish is Ashish. But I think he's also had rotten luck this year. In Australia he twisted his ankle, which was a freak injury. He just got his leg stuck in mud and hurt it. And injuries happen in sport. It happens to every side."

Now if Leipus were to be dropped from the side, who will care for our overworked and injured cricketers?
Deepti Patwardhan in Mumbai