Pre-season training: It's just not cricket

Angus Fraser recalls it being all about Mike Gatting failing the bleep test and Phil Tufnell smoking a fag as he hid behind a hedge. Now his Middlesex charges report back in November and are put through their paces by a cage fighter

For a county cricketer, November used to be a month of contemplation. A period of downtime when you could unemotionally evaluate what had taken place during the hectic summer months. It was the period when a weary body was given time to recover from a bruising season.

If you ate and drank the wrong things and put a bit of weight on it didn't matter, after all no domestic trophies have ever been won in December. The New Year was the time to get serious. This was when preparation for the following season really began.

It is no longer the case. On 7 November, after a seven-week break, Middlesex's cricketers were back at the club's indoor cricket school in Finchley training for the 2012 season. The sofa, slippers and Sauvignon Blanc have been replaced by weight benches, trainers and protein shakes. I'm not sure how long Ian Botham would have lasted.

Middlesex are not alone. Most, if not all, counties will be following a similar routine. The idea is to get players fit and strong prior to the New Year so the focus in January, February and March can be on the cricket skills. In my current position as managing director of cricket at Middlesex I encourage our players to embrace the regime; when I was a player I would have moaned like hell.

It is all a bit different to spring 1985 and my first full season on the Middlesex staff. Then, we used to report back for pre-season training on 1 April, which, ironically, is a day later than Middlesex's opening fixture of the 2012 season. Back then we would meet in a dusty hall in Ealing and be run ragged by Graham Barlow, the former Middlesex and England batsman. Barlow was a fitness fanatic and used to teach PE. He was tough too. We were expected to report back fit and a week with him used to give Don Bennett, our fearsome coach, an idea of who had put the hours in.

Mornings were spent doing circuit training – press-ups, sit ups, star jumps – and sprinting loads of shuttles. We were pushed hard and a player would regularly make a hasty exit through the fire exit where their breakfast would reappear. The afternoon was spent playing five-a-side football or being sent on a four-mile run around Ealing.

Five-a-side football was extremely competitive and there was nearly a brawl on one occasion as the old 'uns – Mike Gatting, John Emburey, Clive Radley and Roland Butcher – started kicking lumps out of the mouthy young 'uns – Jamie Sykes, Keith Brown, Phil Tufnell and myself. If a young player started getting flash he was usually sorted out by Bennett, an extremely fit 50-year-old who, before coaching, had combined playing cricket for Middlesex with football for Arsenal.

The long-distance runs weren't too popular. I remember running past a garden hedge behind which Tufnell and Sykes were hiding. Having spent the previous 20 minutes having a fag and a laugh they were waiting for the right time to jump out to join the back of the group.

Very few, if any, weights were lifted. Emburey, the former England spinner, had a simple and amusing motto on training. He used to say: "If you ain't got muscles, you can't pull them."

Now there is no hiding place. This winter Middlesex's players are wearing heart monitors during aerobic sessions. Next to the training area is a screen which highlights each player's heart-rate so Luke Woodhouse, Middlesex's strength and conditioning coach, can see how hard they are working.

The dreaded bleep test, an exercise that gives a level of cardiovascular fitness, still exists. The test involves running continuously between two points 20 metres apart. The distance has to be covered in time to bleeps emitted by an audio system. With each minute the bleeps come faster, which means you have to run faster. It is knackering.

Mike Gatting, the former England captain, was a shocker at this. In an attempt to beat the system, Gatting used to run ahead of the bleeps, which is illegal, until about level eight. Then the bleeps used to catch him up and he had normally dropped out by level 10, which, to be honest was bloody awful – the minimum acceptable requirement for a Middlesex player now is 12 and a half.

Before one season Gatt had a private bleep test in mid-March to see how he would fare. It didn't go well and in an effort to make fast improvement he booked a week at a health farm in Hertfordshire. The theory didn't work. His results were worse second time around.

Modern training methods are not popular with all those in the game. Indeed, some former cricketers are very critical of the time current players spend improving their physical fitness. To some extent I understand where they are coming from. Their view is that it is the figures a player produces on the cricket field that count, not those in the gym. It is true, and there is a danger of some players placing greater emphasis on bleep tests and body fat than the numbers that appear in the scorebook.

The point they miss, however, is that the time spent in the gym is not at the expense of time spent practising in the nets. Modern cricketers spend far more time working on their all-round game than players of my generation.

Real attention to fitness is a recent phenomenon. Despite Gatting's reputation, Middlesex have always taken it seriously, and it was in 2007 that the England and Wales Cricket Board gave each county a grant to employ a strength and conditioning coach. Woodhouse has been Middlesex's from the start and he has seen things change.

"When I started it was completely different," said Woodhouse. "It was a little primitive. Awareness of what was required was limited. People picked and chose what they did and when they did it. If you weren't fat and had reasonable aerobic endurance you were considered fit. Players were in reasonable shape but it was questionable that what they were doing would improve performance or reduce the chance of injury. I've had greater access to players than my predecessors and it's helped improve fitness and reduce injury.

"A lot of county squads are of a not too dissimilar skill level and often it is the teams that keep the most players on the park who are most successful. It doesn't matter how good a player you are, if you are constantly crocked you are not much use to anyone."

During the past two winters Middlesex have used Giorgio Andrews, a mixed martial arts trainer and cage fighter, to help with their training. I have watched a couple of sessions and they are not pretty. Giorgio's warm-ups push the players to the limit. The great thing is nobody gives him any lip. I make sure I pay him on time too.

Woodhouse explains why Giorgio was introduced. "I wanted the players to do some sort of combat work because when doing it you need good footwork, balance and rotational control," he said. "Cricketers, especially batsmen, need to be agile, balanced and good on their feet. They need to push hard from a strong base. Fielders are the same. There was also the mental toughness. Giorgio takes them to levels they don't normally experience. He pushes them till they drop."

Other areas are monitored closely. Middlesex regularly use a nutritionist and in 2010 the players were given cookery lessons to enable them to cook simple, healthy food. Many cricketers live on their own or with mates and the idea was that it would be healthier if they could cook themselves spaghetti bolognese rather than go down the local kebab house.

Nowhere is it harder to get your players to eat the right food than Lord's. It has, without doubt, the most popular lunches in cricket. Home and visiting players love dining at the home of cricket because they get spoilt rotten and, basically, eat what they want. In my playing days, there were cans of beer on the dinner table at Lord's next to the usual bottles of pop.

Attempts have been made to make the food slightly more athlete friendly but each has failed. The main reason is that the MCC want players to enjoy their visit to Lord's and to talk positively about the whole experience. The cans of beer have been removed but lunch is a large part of that experience.

I tried with former chef Linda Le Ker. I was more nervous asking Linda if we could have a certain style of food than I was when sacking a young cricketer. Telling Linda how to cook was like telling Don Bradman how to bat.

At least I didn't get the response Michael Brearley received when he asked Nancy Doyle, a fiery little Irish lady who preceded Linda, whether she could put pastas and salads on the menu as well as roast beef, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. As well as being Middlesex's captain, Brearley was an Ashes-winning captain of England at the time. In response to Brearley's question Nancy said: "Michael, you firkin worry about the cricket at Lord's and let me firkin worry about the food." That was the first and last time Brearley raised the subject.

Attempting to compare the quality of players of different generations is a dangerous and almost impossible pastime but the time players now spend working on themselves and their game should make them at least as good as, if not better than, their predecessors. In the modern game they can and should have no excuses for being the best cricketer they can possibly be.

Pakistan pair lose appeals

Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and fast bowler Mohammad Amir have lost their appeals against their sentences for a spot-fixing scam. Butt, 27, was jailed for 30 months and Amir, 19, received a six-month term. They were sentenced over a plot to bowl deliberate no-balls in a Test at Lord's against England last year.

Former ECB chairman David Morgan, meanwhile has proposed a return to a 50-over county competition to help improve England's prospects in the World Cup. Morgan's interim report on his review of English domestic cricket also includes a proposal to reduce the number of Championship fixtures from 16 to 14 from 2014. PA

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week