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Train like an athlete, eat like a nutritionist, sleep like a baby, win like a champion – by following this mantra, the Indian cricket team has transformed itself into world-beaters.

When Former Team India coach, Duncan Fletcher, said that “Cricket is the most unprofessional of all professional sports,” he was obviously referring to the happy-go-lucky manner in which cricketers conducted themselves when it came to their diet, training and preparation. However, it was not as if other Indian coaches didn’t want to enforce a strict diet and training regime; it was just that with so many superstars in the team, it was impossible to make everyone look in the same direction. The first thing that the most high-profile former India coach, Greg Chappell, would do – every time the team checked into a different city was to call up the hotel chef and tell him the strict “do’s and don’ts” regarding the food that was to be served to the players. But with top cricketers having friends who would smuggle the greasy stuff to their rooms, things didn’t always work out as planned.

For example, this writer knew for a fact that during his early years in the Indian team, Virat Kohli was extremely fond of shikanji (a high-calorie drink made of milk, dry fruits, ice-cream and sugar). Accordingly, every time the team came to Nagpur for a match, the first thing that Kohli would do was to request his friends to get the drink delivered to him in the hotel – and he would have two glasses in one go.

It was also the case that the cricketers never believed that they needed to be as fit as athletes in other sports. This might have been because Test cricket was spread over five days, whereas the premier ODI tournament—the World Cup—would happen once in four years. Perhaps it was because of the advent of the cash-rich T20 cricket, and also the fact that cricket is now played right through the year, that players now understand that they have to be super-fit if they are to play all three formats.

Leading by example is the captain, Virat Kohli, the man who changed himself completely in order to finetune his talent and give it a cutting edge. Kohli’s total transformation in the last few years can be traced to a conversation he had with Duncan Fletcher, about fitness. As he quietly changed his work ethic and focussed on his fitness and diet, Kohli was able to take his game to the next level. With a supremely fit body, razor sharp mind, great skill and the will to win against all odds, Virat Kohli is the complete package – and it is hardly surprising that his fitness, diet and training have become a blueprint for all his colleagues in the dressing room. The results have been there for everyone to see.

After having a poor IPL season in 2012, Kohli was honest in admitting everything that was wrong about him. “I ate so bad, I was up until late, I was having a drink or two regularly. It was a horrible mindset.” Overweight by a dozen odd kilograms, he then decided to get back on track by changing his diet and training. Now, the Indian captain spends an average of two hours in the gym, five days a week. His Saturdays and Sundays are for rest and relaxation. His training method is a combination of weights and cardio exercises, which has has helped him develop strong muscles, good body strength and stamina. His powerful throws from the deep and excellent running between the wickets can be attributed to his work in the gym, and in the swimming pool. 

Hardik Pandya walking that extra mile in training

As for his supremely healthy diet, Kohli is off gluten and off wheat. Now, he relishes a protein-rich diet of salmon, sushi and lamb chops. Besides, he drinks lots of water, to guard against dehydration, and in keeping with the good old saying ‘Early to bed, early to rise’, the Indian captain hits the bed by 9 or 9.30 pm.

Unlike Kohli, former Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn’t slavedrive himself at the gym. In fact, he makes a visit to the gym every alternate day for an hour. Speed and agility come naturally to the muscular and strong Dhoni, who is among the fastest between 22 yards. His idea of keeping himself fit is by playing badminton (which helps him with his footwork and eyesight) and football (strong legs and agility).

Virat Kohli can only dream of having a lavish buffet given his strict fitness regime

When it came to his eating habits, Dhoni loved his butter chicken, yellow dal and milkshake. Besides, he would indulge himself with a bar of chocolate, which would be safely hidden under his bed.  However, all this is now a thing of the past. And, much like Kohli, Dhoni too makes sure he eats a good protein-rich diet. Accordingly, his breakfast will have four egg whites, fresh fruit and porridge. His lunch consists of chicken or a chicken sandwich, salad and milkshake. For dinner, he prefers eating light – a bowl of oats with milk and honey. He always has a stock of imported protein bars, thanks to his friends living in Australia and England. Dhoni once told this writer, “The day I retire, I will still be among the fittest guys in the team.” Looking as lean as ever, he’s made good on that promise, in the evening of his remarkable career.

Hardik Pandya, the new poster boy of Indian cricket, admitted that he flew off the handle after all the fame and fortune early in his career. However, the 23-year old learnt his lessons once he was out of the team. Now that he is back with a bang, he’s determined to fine tune the rough edges. “I’m more focussed on my game now,” says Pandya. “My eating, sleeping and workout habits have changed. That has helped me a lot. I am stronger now. Cricket is something very close to my heart, and this is the right time for me to focus all my energies to get better and better.” For someone who revived the joyous spirit of the great Kapil Dev in the way he bats, bowls and fields, Pandya is now following his captain’s work ethics to a T. While his training involves some insane weightlifting, alongside running with a dead weight attached to his body, he also makes sure about eating the right food (boiled) and in the right quantities – and he too is in bed by 9.30 pm. The result is that Pandya, who started bowling just three years back, has added more pace to his bowling. He would clock 130 kph earlier, but now he bowls at 140 kph and above. When it comes to his batting, his sixes now travel well beyond the boundary.

Veteran Ashish Nehra too has realised the importance of diet and fitness, which is why the 38-year old pacer spends four hours every day at the gym and at the swimming pool, to ensure that his body doesn’t betray his spirit. In terms of preparation, this team is leaving nothing to chance, and when talent is backed up by hard work, the results are amazing. As captain Kohli is well and truly in control of the Indian team, he has clearly underlined his roadmap for the future by saying, “I want us to be the fittest Indian team that has played the game.”

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