‘Don’t Care if He’s Fit, he Can Hit The Ball For a Six’: Anil Kumble Insisted PBKS Must Buy Power-hitter Despite Fitness Concerns

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Last Updated: Apr 02, 2023, 2:11 PM IST

Bhanuka Rajapaksa has started his IPL season with a quickfire fifty. (Pic Credit: Sportzpics)

Anil Kumble didn’t care about the fitness concerns of the power-hitter and insisted that Punjab Kings buy him at the IPL mega auction

Bhanuka Rajapaksa played a key role in getting Punjab Kings to a winning start in IPL 2023 as they defeated Kolkata Knight Riders in a rain-affected match by seven runs on Saturday. Rajapaksa scored a brisk half-century to lay a platform for a big total which proved decisive.

While there’s been little doubt over his big-hitting abilities, there was a phase in Rajapaksa’s career when he was unable to cope up with the strict fitness standards set by his Sri Lankan team head coach. He would go on to meet the parameters set by Mickey Arthur in 2021 but by the end of that year, they were further revised which Rajapaksa felt were beyond his reach and thus came the shocker: he announced his retirement at the start of 2022.

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Then then Sri Lankan sports minister convinced him to make  a retirement U-turn but his missed subsequent tours to Australia and India on fitness grounds.

Then at the IPL mega auction in February 2022, PBKS raised the paddle when his name came was announced. Despite the reservations from others, the then PBKS head coach Anil Kumble was adamant and not concerned about Rajapaksa’s fitness troubles.

“When Anil Kumble saw him play, he said I’ve got to pick him,” PBKS batting consultant Julian Wood told Cricbuzz. “He was told don’t pick him, he’s not fit enough. Fair play to Kumble because he said ‘I don’t care if he’s fit, he can hit the ball for a six. I don’t want him to run a 100m in 10 seconds, I want him to hit the ball for a six’.”

Rajapaksa scored 206 runs at a strike-rate of 159.68 from nine innings for PBKS last season, justifying the faith Kumble had shown in his abilities.

Nigel Aaron, a fitness trainer who helped Rajapaksa meet the standards when Sri Lanka Cricket issued him an ultimatum of one month, recalls how the left-handed batter gave up on chocolate, pushed vehicles with resistance bands among other things to get his skinfold reading under 80 and finish a 2km run test within 8 minutes and 35 seconds.

“He asked me if it was possible to do it?,” Aaron told Cricbuzz. “I said technically it is a strenuous workout because he had to bring the weight down by a certain amount in a month’s time and at the same time retain fitness as well to complete the 2km test. It wasn’t just about bringing the skinfold down but to have that strength to keep going.”

“We didn’t have the best facilities at his house so we had to do a bit of improvisation. He had battle ropes and kettlebells but then scientifically from my side I did a lot of metabolic training to get his metabolic rate high and get his fat percentage down. In the same way, we had to train for his 2kms. We did some crazy training, like pushing vehicles with resistance bands. He’s a power hitter so you don’t want to lose that as well,” he added.

Aaron recalls how Rajapaksa would crave for ‘tasty’ chocolate while going through the fitness regime. “There were days he (Rajapaksa) would call me and ask ‘Can I have a piece of chocolate?’ I said no don’t, just two more weeks. He would still persist and I’d say okay you can have a piece of dark chocolate. He would say ‘no dark chocolate is not tasty, I want milk chocolate,'” he said.

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