Misbah-ul-Haq, head coach and chief selector of Pakistan Cricket
Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq’s directive banning biryani, sweets and red meat to improve the fitness levels of cricketers has surprised many. It’s difficult for some cricketers to accept such orders as most believe that they should eat what they feel and also in quantities that they would like to.

An instruction like this should have been implemented in Pakistan’s domestic cricket long ago. While reporting many series in Pakistan, I have tasted the biryani and other dishes from their different cities. And one cannot deny the fact they are all mouth-watering and extremely hard to resist. To add to this is their hospitality to serve good food, all resulting in an increase in weight in almost all journalists reporting the series.

The Pakistan team are not alone in to the fault. Players from all subcontinent countries enjoy their food and get tempted to eat way more than they should be taking in as an athlete. Former Pakistan-pacer-turned-coach Aaqib Javed, who was instrumental in shaping Afghanistan into a fighting unit, once mentioned that the toughest part of his job was to motivate his players to control their diet, especially the quantity.

Till the end of 90s, the general feeling was that cricketers can eat what they liked to. In fact, fitness was hardly a priority because cricketers like India’s off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna and Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga played with a heavy belly and were successful too.

One of the reasons why most Pakistan players may not have stressed on their eating habits could be that most of their top cricketers were hardly careful of what they ate and how much. Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was the chief selector of the team until Misbah took over, had himself never given a thought about his diet. The fact that Haq was one of the greatest batsmen of the era, despite his erring food ways, may have sent out a wrong message. Also, his drawback of running batsmen out was ignored.

Youngsters need role models to turn into fit cricketers, and Misbah, as a cricketer, had shown the way. The fact that he could play till the age of 43 and remain consistent was a lot due to his controlled habits. Today, India has Virat Kohli, who is leading the way for not only men but women cricketers too, and almost everyone is aiming to emulate him on his fitness. So in this context, one must hail Misbah for not playing the role of a coach and improving their cricketing techniques, but also for encouraging healthy and fit cricketers. He has conveyed the message that for any talented player to rise to his best, he should be backed by absolute fitness. The strength of any successful team today is its fit and agile cricketers.