THE UNDYING Sportsman SPIRIT
In spite of a love-hate relationship with on-field injuries, ZAHEER KHAN is a legend in his own right. Currently recovering from a torn tendon, and vying for a comeback into the Indian squad, he keeps himself busy with his latest venture, Prosport, The Fitness Hub. Mandate catches up with the sportsman and entrepreneur in between his workout and training schedules.
It was one of the cooler December days in Mumbai. Post a morning of some chills, the city had finally shed its scarves and shawls and come out in the sun for a cup of tea. The Raghuvanshi Mills compound, like any other mill compound in South Mumbai, was a sea of crisp shirts and business suits on one side, marking a tea break at nearby corporate offices, and eager vendors carrying south Indian delicacies on their cycle carriers at the prospect of business, on the other. As we walked into the campus with our camera equipment and studio lights, an overenthusiastic security guard guided us to our destination, Prosport, The Fitness Hub.
The gym, if we can call it so, was unlike the other fitness centres we’d seen so far. A giant circuit which appeared to have been made from metal pipes and faucets formed the centre piece of the floor, surrounded by mirrors on one side and brick-patterned walls on the other, rendering the space a grungy, fight club look. If you were Rocky Balboa, this would be your happy place.
As we sipped on our coffee and put our heads together, chalking out the minutes of the shoot, in walked Zaheer Khan, India’s most complete fast bowler of all time, also, the founder of Prosport, The Fitness Hub. Dressed in a pair of straight blue track pants and a T-Shirt, this six-foot- something man was hard to ignore even when he wasn’t charging at you with a ball in hand. A suppressed murmur floated past my ears, and I couldn’t blame my crew for saying so; he does appear bigger in person than he ever did on television, exceeding the good looks expectations by
“I’M 100 PER CENT CONFIDENT THAT I WILL MAKE A COMEBACK, BUT I WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT I’M 100 PER CENT FIT TOO”
a mile! “You have to guide me through, I’m not so good with the camera,” said Zaheer, changing into a white T-Shirt. “Herman will be here to help me with the exercises.” Harmanus Stephanus Leibenberg, the floor trainer on duty, quickly parked himself next to Zaheer at the instruction, making sure he wasn’t overdoing any move and thus, injuring himself again.
Zaheer’s career, aside from being ornamented with one achievement after another, is also a case study for recurring injuries, which often interrupted his progress at the international level. Recently, an injury he picked up during the 2014 IPL season shattered his hopes of making a comeback in India’s test series in England. “This has been another battle for me. Playing for India was never easy in the first place. Things are always difficult at that level, and injuries add to it,” Zaheer opened up later, as we sat in a quiet office room adjacent to the gyming area. “All I can do is work hard and prepare myself and then the opportunity of playing for the national side has to happen on its own.” As splendidly optimistic as it may sound, Zaheer refused to pay any heed to rumours of retirement, even when he has not made it to the World Cup squad. “I’m 100 per cent confident that I will make a comeback, but I want to make sure that I’m 100 per cent fit too. I cannot put a date on it obviously, as it depends on a lot of things, but it will definitely happen.”
Perhaps, this is what puts Zak, as his team-mates fondly call him, in just the right place, where he felt talking about injury management was important. “I’ve travelled all over the world seeking medical assistance, because I felt there’s a gap in India in terms of physiotherapy and training. And, that’s what inspired Prosport. I thought, why not provide the same here so that others are benefited,” he added, explaining the aesthetics behind this special rehab and training centre, as he calls it. He continued, “Of course, I have plans for expansion, converting it in to a chain and we are also working on different tie-ups which will work in our favour.”
For a sportsman, there’s no better training than that on the field. And, even as experts argue whether today’s cricketers are playing too much cricket, thus making themselves prone to injuries and fatigue, Zaheer unabashedly endorsed that there is no such thing as too much cricket. “Not really. I’ve always felt that when everything is going good with you in terms of your form and fitness, you must keep going and not take a season break unnecessarily,” he explained. “Injuries have given me enough breaks, you see. I would rather play more.”
Learning from his own experience perhaps, Zaheer has come to believe that recovery is as important as the injury itself and urges aspiring fast bowlers to not overdo in a moment of adrenaline rush. “It is always the quality that is important and not the quantity, therefore one must make sure they are doing the right amount of exercise and the right way,” he said, quickly adding, “Also, always listen to your trainer, and listen to your body, because your body always tells you when you’ve overdone something and you need recovery time.”
Ask him how he’s been keeping fit all this while, especially since he’s been off the field, and he categorically takes you through a regular day in his life, without failing to credit Adrian Le Roux, his friend, business partner and someone he’s been working with for years, for designing all his workouts. “Right now, the routine involves a lot of physiotherapy, since I’ve been injured for a while. But a typical routine is, hit the gym in the morning and do nets in the evening. I try to bowl about three to four times a week along with some heavy weight training. Of course, all this only when I’m not playing. And during the season, I keep it light, the whole training is focused around core strengthening,” he concluded. Well, let’s hope all his efforts pay off and we soon see him in action: Swinging the new ball, and reversing the old, like he has always done throughout his career.