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November 3, 1999


The Rediff Interview / Andrew Leipus

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'I think that in the next 12 months this team will be a much better and fitter lot'

Andrew leipus He's 29, Australian, but has been living in South Africa for the last couple of years. That's because his girlfriend is South African. After working in a major sports clinic in Johannesburg, he assisted a major provincial side in South Africa as physiotherapist before travelling to India last month.

Meet the Indian cricket team's new physiotherapist -- Andrew Leipus. He has a three-year sports science degree as well as a four-year physio's degree, which he obtained in Adelaide, Australia. This is his second trip to India. The first was in 1994-95, when he came with his girlfriend in a backpack. So, coming over this time is not so much of a culture shock. As he says, he "knew what to expect".

In an exclusive chat with Faisal Shariff, Leipus stressed the need for enhanced training methods and promised a completely fit Indian cricket team in the coming months.

So how did you get into sports medicine?

I have always been a sportsman and have been interested in sports -- from cricket as a youngster to tennis to Aussie rules football to triathlon. I have tried a lot of other water sports coming from Australia. So it was a natural thing that I went into exercises and sports sciences and the health and sports industry after learning school and obtaining my sports science degree. At that time there was no defined profession for exercise and sports science graduates. There is more now. I thought that if everyone was going and getting there career started I thought that I would go and do something else. So I went into physiotherapy, and with a sports science background and physiotherapy, I just went into sports physiotherapy.

Have you worked with the South African cricket team?

No, Craig Smith looks after the SA guys. But in Provincial cricket, when they are playing at the Wanderers in Johannesburg -- any team that comes to the Wanderers, I treat them as well as my team. That's how I know a few of them.

So how did the Indian physio's job come about?

I am not really sure myself. I heard through the grapevine, just like in this industry you hear bits and pieces, that Andrew Kokinos was retiring and there might be a position up for grabs. So I sent a letter of interest outlining in brief a synopsis of what I do.

So, was it just a job that you applied for, or was there some special interest you had in the Indian team? Have you been following cricket?

I have been with the provincial level in South Africa. I have been working with guys like Daryll Cullinan, Derek Crookes and a couple of other guys. So I developed a deep interest in the sport and then I learned that the Indian cricket team was looking for someone with some training background as well. I also worked for a company called Reebok University and they have a similar thing here in India. It is a subsidiary of Reebok. It deals with training people who kind of work in the health and fitness industry.

So, I was a lecturer for them and I was lecturing on the health and fitness industry - about training, personal training and fitness conditioning and that kind of stuff. And I just thought that this was the perfect job for me.

What kind of a role does fitness play in cricket? How important is peak fitness compared with natural skills and talent?

Andrew leipus Obviously, skill is the main thing. You won't get anywhere until you have the basic skills. But I think the game has changed so much and it is such a faster game. And every run counts and saving every run counts. But fitness is very important.

But fitness is a very vague term. People throw that term around very loosely. Are we talking about fitness in terms of his injury or his endurance or flexibility or strength. They are all components of this big term called fitness. Now in cricket the thing, which I think is important, is the speed of the player between the wickets, the speed of the player in the field. Running to prevent a boundary, diving to his left or right as a reflex, running to take catch. Now all of those things require power, which is a flow on from strength. You got to have a basic endurance base and what most people understand, as fitness is actually endurance.

The Indian guys have a good background. They all train from school level, club level and state level. So their flexibility is actually very good. Their skills are absolutely fine. I think from a fitness point of view, excuse me to use that term again, I think that these guys need a bit more fine-tuning in the fielding department, which is flexibility and acceleration.

So you think that they are fit?

Yeah! They are fit.

Then how would you explain the spate of injuries that followed as soon after Kokinos left and the team was at the mercy of Dr Ravindra Chadda?

I can't really comment on that. This decision came about very quickly and I met the team on the bus on way to the first Test. And I walked into the bus and said: 'Hello! How you doing guys? (laughs) I am your new physio.' So, it's all been happening very quickly with me and I'm slowly getting the whole picture. That's why I want to get in touch with Kokinos and talk to him.

What's your immediate goal with the team?

My initial goal, I'm half way through it, is individual muscular assessments, which is taking every player aside for an hour and just assessing them for their posture, to their range of motion and their muscle strength and other things -- just to determine any imbalances in the body. They might not be able to get full elbow extension, which could be a problem from a bowler's point of view. Shoulder range of motion, if its tight, it could be a problem which could lead to injuries. The way their scapulae (shoulder blades) move is important, their basic ability around their abdomen, pelvis is another key factor.

I am assessing them from a musculising point of view. I get to know them a bit better. I get to ask them about their previous injuries. I get to look at them, the way they move their posture and tell them what future injuries they may get so they can do something about it. Then I implement individual programmes for each player to do, to try and correct anything that I find is not wanted.

Have you set yourself any time frame?

No! The schedule at the moment is so hectic that I'm going by every opportunity that I may get. If the team is batting then I get time to assess the players, and it is an ongoing thing. Injury prevention is an ongoing thing. It is not something that comes and goes; you can't spend two weeks on it and say that its done. At this level when the demand is so high, you have to constantly keep your eye on guys, for the slightest niggle could turn into a full blown injury.

Sports medicine is a highly sophisticated field. Yet, it is unable to keep down the number of injuries to players -- and irrespective of whether they are from Australia or Sri Lanka. What, according to you, is the reason for that?

You can categorise injuries into two areas: one is contact injury -- the one between Gillespie and Steve Waugh. That is something you can't prevent; it's a freak thing. Say you break a finger and you are out for a while. The others are the overuse injuries. The throwing injuries, hamstrings and ankles and what not. It's all about adequate recovery time which, with current international schedules, is quite a challenge. Australia is leading the way there by having two teams for Tests and one-day internationals. I think that's a possibility of having two teams. Allowing some guys to rest. What that does is it strengthens your depth of selection in the country's pool of talent. So you give every one a chance at international level in various areas of specialisation. It allows injuries to recover.

So, you think that having two teams is the key to avoid and help injuries heal?

It's not the best option. It is certainly one of the options. But then that comes down to depth of selection, the pool of players available. So, again, I have just come into the team and I don't think what the depth of the reserves is like.

Have you had a look at Sachin's back? What is your assessment of it?

It's fine.


No, no. As far as I know it's a soft tissue complain which is not stopping him at all. As far as I know, I've had a good look at him. He has a good range of motion. He is strong and flexible. As far as Sachin is concerned, he is fit and there is no injury to him that will curtail his career.

So what is your assessment of the Indian team so far?

They are a great bunch of guys. I have things that I want to work with them on. Kapil is very receptive to my ideas and all the guys are receptive as well. They are keen to do better and prove themselves. They approach me with their problems and where they think their downfall is. I think that in the next 12 months this team will be a much better and fitter lot.

You have played with the South African players and Australian players and now with the Indian players. Do you think there is a difference in the body structure of the Asians?

Andrew leipus I believe in nature versus nature. You have got a certain genetic ceiling to your potential. And it is just a matter of how you use that genetic material to your advantage. At this level or in cricket I don't think anyone is approaching that genetic ceiling at all. In the Olympics, where fractions of a second count, genetics are going to make a difference. I think it's just a way the Indian culture versus the Australian culture. Indians don't dive so much in the outfield because they are not used to playing rugby or Aussie-rules football. But there is no reason why a player can't be developed to become very fast in the outfield, to learn how to dive. I don't think genetics is the limiting factor here; it's training. There is no reason why these guys can't become bodybuilders. If they want they can put on a lot of bulk.

So, if you are worried about Indian guys being thinner and slightly built than the western guys then maybe that is related with the diet. It maybe a factor and it will take a long time to change. If India wants to be up there they will have to rethink their training patterns.

Tell us about your experiences of India the last time you were here with your girlfriend.

India is a tough place to travel -- if you are going to travel with anyone, travel with your girlfriend. If you come out of it together then it's the woman you should spend the rest of your life with. If you can survive that then you can survive anything. We were catching local trains, buses, rickshaws, staying in dingy guesthouses for Rs. 50 a night. That's the best way to experience India. You don't experience India living in a five-star hotel like this. That is not India.


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