Fitness of Men in Blue will remain cause for concern in hectic 2023

Indian cricket was hit hard by injuries to several of its regular players across all formats throughout 2022.

With such frequent forced absences of cricketers, despite a workload management process being in place, addressing this challenge is indeed the need of the hour for the BCCI, for 2023 promises to be another year with an eye-watering cricketing schedule, including the ODI World Cup at home.

Deepak Chahar and Washington Sundar have spent a huge chunk of time this year on the sidelines and rehabilitating at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. Chahar’s first injury of 2022 was a quadricep tear on his right leg that he suffered during the third T20 against the West Indies in Kolkata.

While recovering, Chahar picked up a back injury and was ruled out of the entire IPL 2022 season. He finally resumed training from August and made competitive comeback during the ODIs against Zimbabwe. In October, a stiff back ruled Chahar out of the final two ODIs against South Africa and he was ruled out of the final ODI against Bangladesh due to hurting his hamstring.

2022 has been a stop-start year for Washington. Testing positive for Covid-19 meant he was forced to miss the ODIs against South Africa in January after missing the England tour and the second half of IPL 2021 due to finger injury.

Though he did play ODIs against the West Indies at Ahmedabad in February, he was ruled out of subsequent T20Is against them and Sri Lanka due to hamstring injury. During IPL 2022, he injured his bowling hand while playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad and had to miss a couple of matches.

He then underwent rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in June, causing him to miss the tour of England and the West Indies. During his county stint with Lancashire, he landed heavily on his left shoulder while diving on the field during a Royal London One-Day Cup match against Worcestershire on August 10.

That injury forced him to pull out of India’s three-match ODI series in Zimbabwe. Ironically, Washington was named as Chahar’s replacement for the ODIs against South Africa and he has been injury free since then.

Besides the two, captain Rohit Sharma batted through pain on his left thumb while playing against Bangladesh in the second ODI, and missed the third ODI and the Test series. Earlier, he had a left hamstring injury which forced him to miss the tour of South Africa. Also, seamer Kuldeep Sen shined in the first ODI against Bangladesh, but was out due later to back injury.

Mohammed Shami is out of the Bangladesh tour due to shoulder injury. Shami was a replacement for Jasprit Bumrah in the T20 World Cup held in Australia earllier this year. Bumrah didn’t feature in any form of cricket since September, after missing the Asia Cup due to back injury.

When he came back for the T20Is against Australia, he played in Nagpur and Hyderabad. But on the eve of the T20Is against South Africa, he was pulled out due to back injury, just before the T20 World Cup. There’s no word yet as to when Bumrah will be available next.

K.L. Rahul himself has had issues with groin injury, which caused him to go under the knife. Harshal Patel had a rib injury, forcing him to miss the Asia Cup, before recovering in time for the T20 World Cup. Kuldeep Yadav had a hand injury, forcing him to miss the home T20Is against South Africa, the tour of England and ODIs against the West Indies.

In the pre-pandemic world, India had their share of injury issues when Bumrah and Hardik Pandya had spent time on the sidelines for rehab, along with the same happening to Chahar, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Wriddhiman Saha.

Currently, the players in the radar of national team selection have to report at the NCA for their fitness to be assessed. After that, a report is submitted to the team management in detail, following which a programme is chalked out for the players post consultation with the support staff.

When a player is injured, they have to be under rehab for a certain period. After the rehab period is over, another assessment of fitness is done in detail before a green signal is issued.

In the current Indian home season, India will be playing three T20Is, and as many ODIs against Sri Lanka, before playing against New Zealand in the same number of games. Then Australia arrive for four Tests and three ODIs, before the IPL commences.

After the IPL, India have a tour of the West Indies (possibility of WTC final in between), followed by Asia Cup and three ODIs against Australia at home. Post the ODI World Cup, Australia will be back in India for five T20Is, before the Men in Blue embark on tour of South Africa for an all-format trip.

If BCCI wishes to have all of its regular cricketers at its disposal, it needs to fill in the voids by tightening their current systems of injury management and communication lines to monitor the fitness and recovery of players.

Despite a huge support staff and high-class facilities, it is very distressing if players frequently break down, especially with a World Cup around the corner.

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