Pakistan's captain Sarfaraz Ahmad
Pakistan's captain Sarfaraz Ahmad. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Is Safaraz Ahmad overweight? Shoaib Akhtar thinks so. The Pakistan captain came under fire from his compatriot Akhtar who accused him of being “fat and unfit”. The former fast bowler’s body-shaming jibe came in the wake of Pakistan’s heavy loss in the opener against the West Indies.

Safaraz packs quite a few pounds around his midriff, but does that mean he’s fat and unfit? No, was the general chorus of opinion. Inzamam ul Haq was stouter. That didn’t prevent him from becoming a world class batsman.

Safaraz is not the heaviest player in the Cricket World Cup 2019. That could well be Mohammad Shahzad. The Afghan opener is podgy, and it hasn’t stopped him from being one of the exciting Afghan batsmen. Incidentally, Safaraz and Shahazad are wicketkeepers.

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Rodney Marsh was another heavy-set wicketkeeper. His weight didn’t prevent from leaping around to catch the edges off the bowling of Dennis Lillee and Mike Thomson. Or effect stumpings of Kerry O’Keefe. Marsh’s fitness was never in doubt. He played Australian Rules Football.

There are some Australians who do not fit Akhtar’s definition of fitness. David Boon’s ungainly paunch was not an impediment to shot-making or scrambling for a quick single. Fast bowler Merv Hughes sported a menacing Walrus moustache, but the roly-poly figure didn’t stop him from becoming a menace to batsmen.

Arjuna Ranatunga was in a league of his own. Weight never hampered the former Sri Lankan captain. He moved into his shots very well and was an excellent judge of a run.

Arjuna Ranatunga Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Before the advent of limited overs cricket, fitness wasn’t given much thought. The father of cricket, W.G. Grace, flowing beard and all, did not cut an athletic figure. In later years, England’s Colin Milburn showed us that portly players could play. Even Colin Cowdrey wasn’t lithe and wiry. Yet, he became a successful batsman for England and a safe catcher in the slips.

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Barring Venkataraghavan, none of the famed Indian spin quartet were fast movers. I remember a radio commentator describing the play: “[Bishen] Bedi escorts the ball to the boundary.” That was a long time ago.

One-day cricket changed all that. Acrobatic fielding, lightning reflexes and sharp singles all are the products of fitness. Most cricketers pay attention to fitness.

Virat Kohli takes it to a manic level. Despite his abundant talent, the Indian captain is fully aware of the need for hard work and fitness. He practises relentlessly and hits the gym to keep in shape. Kohli is very careful about his diet as well.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli attends a training session at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. Image Credit: AFP

He aims to reduce his body fat percentage to 7.5 – unheard of in cricket. That number belongs to cycling and tennis. Why is Kohli determined to keep his body fat percentage down? The Indian skipper believes that it will help his running between the wickets, especially converting ones into twos.

That gives an insight into the ambition that drives Kohli. He’s prepared to explore every avenue to improve his game.

This is not to suggest that Sarfaraz should go the Kohli way. More attention to fitness will help him contribute better. A leaner body would not only help him cover more ground when diving, but also help pivot better when hooking and pulling. And may even help avoid runouts.

Sarfaraz doesn’t have to look too far. Remember Misbah ul Haq and his push-up salute. The former skipper knew the value of fitness and even had Army trainers work with the team.

Misbah ul Haq

If Sarfaraz can keep scoring with his current fitness, imagine how far he could go with improved fitness. Give a ring to Misbah. He’ll be glad to help.