Transcript: Couch Talk with Dr. Nitin Patel

Couch Talk 174 (Play)

Guest: Nitin Patel, Former India Team Doctor

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is Dr. Nitin Patel, who was the team doctor for India from 2007 till recently. He talks about the reason for him leaving the job, the various player health monitoring programs, the modules he put in place for training physios at local levels, and the various challenges of being the physio for an international side, amongst other things. Welcome to the show, Nitin!

Nitin Patel (NP)– Thank you!

SJ– It is my pleasure having you on. You have been the Indian cricket team’s team doctor for quite a while and you have recently resigned from the post. Could you elaborate on the reason, please?

NP– The reason is that, as you mentioned, I have been on the job for a long time, I have been there since 2007. The nature of the job is such that the time factor in terms of managing…normally what happens is we are sitting at the ground doing nothing, but our main role starts in the evening. Basically, what happens is you can’t give time to family when you are on tour. even when you are at home, you get a call from one of the boys and your mind is always about remotely managing the boys. Obviously, those 8 years have taken a toll on my family. That was one of the reason – I wasn’t able to give time to my family. I have now decided to give some time to family. Also, my children are growing older. My younger daughter is 6 and my elder son is 12. In about 2 years’ time my son is going into his own world. i wanted to spend some quality time with my family.

SJ– As you said, you have been with the team since 2007, but there were times in between when someone came in and replaced you for some time, for example- Ashish Kaushik when India toured West Indies in 2011. Was this a part of the rotation thing, also to keep yourself sane and keep yourself in touch with the family?

NP– Correct. I have to thank the BCCI management for that, for considering that option. After 2011 I had asked the BCCI management, the office bearers to allow me some time with family. They were quite considerate and I should be thankful to them. That was the plan then. I had the option of part-sharing.

SJ– You joined the team in 2007 when John Gloster got injured. How did that come about? You were practicing in London for a few years by then. You had an existing/pre-existing relationship with Baroda Cricket. How did you get drafted as the team physio?

NP– What happened is, when I was with the Baroda Cricket Association and when I was in England, I used to come back to India and I had given a couple of presentation on how to go ahead to the BCCI from the Physio management perspective. I guess they were waiting for the opportunity and one fine weekend I was at work in England and I am receiving a few calls from an Indian number. I get the surprise that the team is in Belfast and got asked whether I could join them. I never looked back from there.

SJ– Let’s talk about your time with the Indian side. In the past there have been times where players carry injury into the game, especially the fast bowlers who lose their edge trying to protect their spot in the side. if you are a member of the Indian side, it is tough to get back in. but, in your tenure in the last 8 years, that sort of thing has changed where players are now more focused on staying fit and healthy rather than trying to protect a spot.

NP– You are spot on. It depends… It is a way on convincing the players… I am sure the players want to keep their spot in it, but if you convince the player properly in terms of his injury and injury management, of the long term scenario and the long term detriment of the team and the individual, the players are quite considerate about it. the players are acting in interest of Team India. It is about setting it on the table and discussing with the team management, the player and yourself.

SJ– As you said, you had an existing relationship with Baroda well before you took over the Indian team. Your time co-incised with the mixed season – the IPL started. So, there was a lot more financial security also. The players were not worried about missing the match fee because they had to sit at home and recuperate and rehabilitate.

NP– In the players’ mindset, the utmost thing was to play for the country. It has never been for the club. The priority has always for the country. It was always said that playing for the country. We have faced some incidences where the players have done selective surgeries, sacrificing the IPL franchise’s goals. The players have sacrificed to play for the country. Yes, the players are always thinking it as the utmost priority to play for the country.

SJ– What are some of the programs that you put in place? you have some strength conditioning and monitoring programs for the pace bowlers and batsmen etc. Could you talk in more detail about those kind of programs for the Indian players?

NP– If you dig into the details, the preparation starts long back. For example, if there is a tour, the preparation would start way ahead in terms of screening someone for injuries from a physio perspective. Our trainers screen them for strength or any other thing from the strength and conditioning perspective. And then we both come up with a plan for that particular player and we customize a program for them, and then we implement them. There were many incidences where we have done very proactive approach where we finish a tour and we screen the players at the end of the tour. There were incidences where we screened 10 players on one day while they went through radiologist and ultrasound. If the niggles come up, we get a proactive approach and screen them at the end of the tour so that they get the injections or you are put on medicines and you can go back home and then come back for the next tour. there are multiple ways of addressing that, but it is all from a proactive approach. The strength and conditioning guy puts in his program at the end of the tour, I would put in my program at the end of the tour, and the players will go back home and implement that so that he comes fresh for the next tour. he also has to balance the time frame. Most players play though out the year, and you can’t ask him that at the end of every tournament to come to the academy – he also has to see his family and friends. You have to balance. It is a fine balance, but there has to be a balance between the mental and physical sides.

SJ– In dealing with the players itself, what are some of the challenges? As you said, some players play almost all around the year. Sometimes there are Tests and ODI tours and sometimes they are not with the squad because they are exclusively T20 players. How do you keep track of all the players? You are not just worried about the 11 players on the field but about 25-30 players, minimum!

NP– In that role, our physio at the NCA was quite supportive. What we used to do is, our physio at the NCA – Ashish Kaushik in the earlier period – we used to work as a team, and he would be taking control of the player who are back home in India or in the state association. The NCA physio will get in touch with the state association and be in constant touch with their physios. Similarly, the NCA trainer will get in touch with the state association trainers and implement the programs all across. If the players had any problems, they would call NCA and address it as soon as possible.

SJ– Are the players, let’s say, if they are not with the touring or playing side, or not at the NCA because they don’t have any health issue, are they still logging in to inform that they did the work that they have been assigned to? Do they do it on a daily basis?

NP– They do report their work. Normally, our trainer used to do that, give them a program and they would log in to their assigned program. Physios will chip in as and when required, when there is a niggle, when there is an injury program, else the trainers will handle it along.

SJ– In your case, with the Indian team, were you better placed because your player were always either with the Indian side or just outside the Indian side; rather than the Aussies or South Africans who travel quite a bit for playing in other T20 leagues. You have Indian players who are primarily playing in the IPL, where you are still employed with the Mumbai Indians. If your job easier because of that?

NP– We also have to consider that we have to be in touch the state association – it even becomes more difficult. When you are coming home from a tour and someone is calling you and saying, “I have this shoulder problem, I don’t know what to do.” and then, you are in trouble. You are remotely managing them. It is pros and cons. The other countries, they have good network of professionals around, here we have seen that someone in Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t have a physio. So, I have to work around with limited resources. BCCI has taken a lot of steps to address that and we have achieved a lot in the recent years.

SJ– You joined the side just as Sachin Tendulkar was coming back into the side from his own injury issues. What were the things that you had to do to make sure that he was ready to play?

NP– It is not only Sachin, but everyone in the squad has his own niggles. We used to manage niggles on a daily basis. For example, someone has played a Test match, Day-1. I would give them an appointment in the bus, like, “You come at this time… and you come at this time…” Everyone would adhere to the timing, even if they are not injured they would come and see me, manage their niggles and go off. It was a case of constant management of those niggles, whether it would be the relief part, or manual therapy perspective, physiotherapy perspective, or strength perspective, they would come constantly on a daily basis and get themselves managed.

SJ– The 2011 tour to England, it was tough on the field as they didn’t win a single game. however, off the field, how tough was it for you guys? You had Zaheer (Khan)’s hamstring on the first day of the Test series, and then you had Yuvraj (Singh) injury and Harbhajan (Singh) injury and Gautam Gambhir injury. How challenging was that tour for you?

NP– The 2011 tour to England, I was in the back seat in the NCA. That was the deal that BCCI had agreed to. After the World Cup, I was given a bit of break from the travelling job.

SJ– But, that sort of thing – did that ever happen to you? In your 8 years with the side, have there been a slew of injuries?

NP– There were ups and downs. I still remember one Test match, where we had 10 players on the table. I think it was the Mohali Test against Australia, 2010. And, they were saying, “Nitin, what are you doing? You are taking one player in and putting another player back on!” I am saying, “It is my bad luck, I have to just keep managing.” There are ups and downs, but it is important how you take the challenge. There would be plenty of challenges in it. Similarly to how the players say to keep it simple, you too have to keep it simple as Physio and absorb the pressure.

SJ– Obviously, when you have players coming through the ranks, they get the best of the facilities and expertise at the international level and also at the first class level. But, your fitness, strength and conditioning has to be at a much lower level – age group, u-16/19/23 level. What sort of things are in place to train physios at that level, at age level, where someone like you who has experience with the national team is mentoring the physios at the lower level? Has there been work being done on that front?

NP– BCCI has already started working on that. We initiated that process, n terms of physios and trainers training others in a ‘train the trainer’ model, where we have decided to educate the physios and trainers to upscale their level so that you can spread the knowledge to the grassroots level. You can spread the quality of services to those levels. It is not just the contracted players that benefit but all the organization get the benefit of the program. The BCCI has already put that program in place.

SJ– Do you have a role in it, and if so, what is that?

NP– So far, no, I haven’t got a role in it. I had initiated that process 2.5-3 years ago. The BCCI has considered it. Now that I am out of the system, I am just focusing on my own work right now.

SJ– Will you still be working with Mumbai Indians?

NP– Yes, I will be.

SJ– How different is that, when you are a physio of a franchise, where you are for 8-9 weeks? You are spending more time at home, but beyond that – in terms of interacting with the players, managing the players, management of their health and injuries, how is it different?

NP– If you see purely form a clinical perspective – a body is a body. It doesn’t change. The only thing is that the Mumbai Indians have a different way of managing the players, in terms of logistics of the injury management as compared to an Indian team. In that case, it is nothing much different, from an injury management or a clinical perspective. The only thing is, Mumbai Indians will prefer to call him to Mumbai whereas the Indian team would prefer to call him to Bangalore, just different logistics while the management would remain the same.

SJ– I want to ask you one last thing – during the 2015 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand. I think it was in Hamilton, where you were in the lift with the Bangladesh captain, Mashrafe Mortaza. It was reported in Bangladeshi media that you had asked one of the fellow Indian staff where the semi final was, which Mashrafe thought that you were playing mind games because you were yet to play the quarter final game vs Bangladesh.

NP– I don’t remember if I had asked any of my players about that. If at all, the intention was not mind games. i have enough things to think about when I asked that. I might be thinking about a player management or a niggle management or many other aspects. During the World Cup we had Mohammad Shami breaking down every match, I might be thinking of something else when I asked that question. I had no intentions of playing mind games with the opponent players.

SJ– Do you have plans, say once your kids have grown up, to come back to the national side? or set up something else, or are you happy with practicing by yourself and being with the franchise?

NP– I am not sure, I am just taking it as it csomes. Right now, I have just decided to spend some quality time with family. There might be a situation on my side that I am ready back again, I don’t know. That can only be left to the future.

SJ– Alright! No worries!

On that note, thank you, Nitin, for being on the show and I really appreciate it.

NP– Thank you!

SJ– Thank you!


Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman