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NCA: School, or just a hospital?


WALK THIS WAY: Indian opener Virender Sehwag being escorted by an NCA official during his rehab stint following shoulder surgery

Is the National Cricket Academy doing its job? The Indian Board's ambitious high-profile feeder line has come under the scanner in the wake of the paucity of a decent bench as Team India struggles with loss of face, poor performance, injury and burn-out in the tour of England.

By criticising the National Cricket Academy (NCA) system for Team India's frequent injury woes, one is certainly missing the woods for the trees. India's premier cricket training centre, established 11 years back in Bangalore, is primarily aimed at producing quality cricketers by chiseling raw talent available at the junior level. It just can't be berated as a 'hospital'.

Besides extensive skill enhancement programmes, the Academy takes steps towards standardisation of cricket in the country. Exclusive seminars for coaches, umpires, trainers and physios, scholarship programmes and several remedial measures (like in the case of suspect bowling action) are conducted on a regular basis at the academy.

Around a dozen practice wickets, including bouncy ones modeled on Australian tracks, a relatively small yet lush green ground, equally good indoor batting facilities, state-of-the-art gym, well-equipped physiotherapy facilities et al comprise the infrastructure at the NCA. Nevertheless, the injury management programme, including rest and rejuvenation, assumes significance due to the heavy impact, say the breakdown of a player on the first day of a Test match just a few days after being cleared match-fit by the NCA physio.

Whenever a BCCI-contracted player gets injured, he is eligible for treatment and subsequent rehabilitation, all at the Board's expense and the latter coming under the guidance of the NCA staff. The fitness report by the physio is then mailed to the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, addressed to the secretary, and then to the selectors if required, all done with utmost confidentiality.
It is learnt that in the case of superstars, the Board usually takes a liberal approach, taking into account the player's word and also the impact his inclusion would have in a particular series. A big point of concern is the lack of communication between the surgeon, mostly a foreigner in the case of internationals, and the NCA physio concerned.

The most crucial link missing in the whole rehabilitation procedure at NCA is assessing one's match fitness, a common procedure followed by the Australian Cricket Board.

Undoubtedly, the NCA gained much momentum and direction during the reign of its previous Director of Operations Dav Whatmore. It was during the Aussie's tenure that the NCA came out with a comprehensive pictorial coaching manual and developed an interactive website for the benefit of coaches and cricketers. It was an arduous task for incumbent Sandip Patil, who took over last year, to retain the intensity and purpose while his contribution can be gauged only over a period of time. In local man Anil Kumble, the Academy has got a hands-on chairman compared to his illustrious predecessors Rajsingh Dungarpur, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri.

Currently, the NCA conducts annual six-weeks each U-16, U-19 and senior women's camps including a 15-day review programme for the same though some reckon that the followup procedure of exciting talents is not long enough. The NCA inter-zonal tournaments for the two age groups have been disbanded for the past two seasons while the women's tourney is being retained. Preparatory camps for senior and 'A' sides are also conducted while non-contracted players are allowed training facilities depending upon availability of time and space.

The NCA expanded its wings last year by establishing specialist batting (Mumbai), spin (Chennai) and pace (Mohali) academies. Some experts are of the view that it is better if the NCA opens up fitness centres with world-class infrastructure in all the six zones.

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