Punishing players for failing fitness tests is nothing new in relation to the selection process of West Indies teams.
The news on Monday that batsmen Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyer were left out of the 15-member squad for the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series in Sri Lanka in February and March inevitably created a lot of discussion.
In the last decade, however, there have been a few cases of players not only being omitted from the team but also losing their central contracts because of fitness issues.
Perhaps the most noted incident was in August 2010, when veteran batsman and former captain Ramnaresh Sarwan was demoted from the contract list as his fitness and that of fellow Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine was “deemed unsatisfactory” by the selectors.
Sarwan lodged an appeal and later won the case against the then West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) over comments made about his fitness.
In September 2011, Ashley Nurse, the Barbados off-spinner was replaced in the squad by left-arm spinner Garey Mathurin of St. Lucia for two Twenty20 Internationals against England in England because he did not meet the required fitness during a West Indies team camp in Barbados.
As far as the issue with Lewis and Hetmyer is concerned, Cricket West Indies (CWI) stated that they did not attain the new minimum standard fitness requirements in recent assessments.
To some observers the penalty seems a bit tough, especially if a player has been performing creditably as was the case with Lewis, who was the leading run-scorer with 208 runs in the recent ODI series against Ireland in the Caribbean.
“Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyer missed out due to the fact that they came up short in the fitness test,” said CWI lead selector Roger Harper.
“They will be missed. Lewis was the team’s best batsman in the recent Colonial Medical Insurance ODI Series against Ireland where he batted with great composure and proved the bedrock for the team’s Series win. Hetmyer appeared to be getting his act together and was an integral part of the team’s batting group.”
Since then it has been disclosed that Lewis and Hetmyer are to be re-tested in two weeks, which would give them an opportunity to be available for selection for the two-match Twenty20 International series against the Sri Lankans in March.
But while there will be pros and cons on the matter of fitness, it is an area which players should pay close attention to.
In December 2018, CWI introduced a new benchmark for testing the stamina and endurance of players on the West Indies men’s team.
It was revealed that of all the teams under its care, including the six territorial franchises, which were evaluated using a battery of tests with the Yo-Yo Endurance Test being a key metric, the West Indies men’s team had shown the greatest improvement during the last year.
“Windies men’s fitness has improved by over 30 per cent in the last year,” said Dr. Oba Gulston, the CWI Head of Sports Medicine & Science during the regional governing body’s board of directors’ meeting in Trinidad.
“We continue to work hard with all the franchises to improve the fitness level of all players across the region, especially out of the cricket season, the most important time to improve fitness and conditioning. We’ve set a minimum benchmark for all players to obtain as an indication of greatly improved fitness levels.”
CWI said the Yo-Yo Endurance Test is part of a series of fitness testing methods developed in Denmark by football physiologist, Dr. Jens Bangsbo. It is a key measure used to evaluate a player’s stamina and endurance. The benefits of the test include helping players to recover faster during matches by increasing their aerobic capacity.
“Player fitness at elite international level is a key ingredient of successful teams. To maintain and improve fitness standards, the CWI Board has now set a benchmark standard that is tied to eligibility for selection, using the Yo-Yo Endurance Test following the recommendation of our Sports Medicine & Science team,” said CWI Chief Executive Officer, Johnny Grave.
“It has also mandated that this benchmark must be achieved for players to be eligible for selection to the squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 England & Wales. The CWI Board has also agreed that any exceptions would be subject to its approval through its medical panel.”
Grave had pointed out that the new fitness benchmark was a part of a suite of measures that the CWI Board approved to help improve player performance across the board.
“With the match calendar and the different formats of the game being practically a year-round pursuit, optimal fitness must be achieved. Irrespective of a player’s cricketing ability, a minimum fitness level is the bedrock for success for any contemporary sports professional,” Grave said.
“The West Indies used to set the benchmark for fitness in cricket and it was one of the hallmarks of the great Windies teams of the 1980s and 1990s. International teams have taken our lead and set new standards. We are investing in all players’ fitness to give our cricket the best chance of success.”
It is no secret that in an era of dominating the game in the 1980s through to the early 1990s with Clive Lloyd and then Viv Richards as the captains, the West Indies were a very fit team, helped significantly by trainer Denis Waight, an Australian.
But lest we forget, during the disastrous West Indies tour to South Africa in 1998-99, some top players were complaining that Waight’s method was too demanding and had led to a number of injuries. Eventually there was a trimming down.
So what actually is the Yo-Yo test? It is described as a fitness assessment of cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness and repeat-sprint ability. Players run up-and-down between markers 20 metres apart in time to recorded audio signals.
For the version used mostly with cricket players (the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test level 1), the players are required to rest for 10 seconds after every 40 metres run (there are other versions with five seconds or no rest). The required running pace increases as the test progresses, and the test is completed when the players cannot keep up with the audio signal. The tests can last anywhere from six to 20 minutes, with players running up to 3kms, depending on their fitness.
Sarwan won his case against the WICB over comments made about his fitness and was awarded $161,000 (US) in damages. The matter was heard in arbitration.
Sarwan had lodged the appeal, in conjunction with the West Indies Players Association against the WICB in March 2011, for unfairly questioning in public his fitness and attitude. This, he said, effectively cost him not only a central contract for the 2010-11 season but also damaged his “reputation as a professional cricketer” and “sullied his career as an international cricketer”.
Accepting Sarwan’s claim that he had suffered “loss and damage”, the arbitrator, Seenath Jairam, concluded that the batsman had been “denigrated” because the selection processes of the WICB were not transparent and the board had committed various breaches of their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the player.
The WICB called the verdict a “highly flawed ruling by the arbitrator”.
That is history but it is clear that CWI means business with its fitness policy.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email: [email protected]