Once upon a time, Tigers were known for their shamefully stiff physique and the signature protruding bellies. It seems that those days are long gone. Bangladesh’s ‘recent’ former Fitness and Conditioning Trainer Mario Villavarayan deserves a lot of credit for this visible transformation. The Sri Lankan joined BCB in 2014 and since then he has been an integral part of Bangladesh coach staff. He is leaving Tigers to join the Indian Premier League team Sunrisers Hyderabad and talked his heart out to daily sun’s Atif Azam before leaving this second home of his.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation
Mario Villavarayan: It’s been very good six years for me in terms of the journey I had with the boys. I think, if I look back, where I started and where I am leaving them now, I think they will work on what I have done. In terms of my, personal journey, it’s been a successful one. Where we started and where we are now, it’s a big improvement. But they have to keep doing it. Now they have to go to the next level. It’s not a journey which stops when I leave next week. They cannot go back to being their previous self. That’s why I hope my teachings will work and the attitude will work. Whoever comes, they will have to keep building on this. Whoever comes next, the boys hopefully will find it easy to work with so that they know what they have to do.
daily sun: What is the biggest change?
Mario Villavarayan: I think the biggest change is the change of attitude. For me what I feel, the attitude did change because everything else were problems which were long known. Because back then they will do it for just a series and then forget about workouts till the next one, but now we don’t see any unfit players because they train on their own. When they go home, their eating habits are better. All that comes down to attitude, I am very happy to make a difference in that sense as being influential in changing their attitude towards fitness.
daily sun: Tell us how you managed to put a hold on Tamim’s biriyani cravings?
Mario Villavarayan: I am very happy with Tamim actually. I am really happy that he is doing it because he is one of those guys who love to eat but now he understands that if he wants to perform and ascend to the next level, he needs to make changes to his diet. I tell him what to do and he has done it. So the credit goes to him.
Mario Villavarayan: For me being a former player, it was not a difficult issue. It was just about understood every individual. My philosophy has been treating each player as an individual. What works for Tamim Iqbal, might not work for Shakib Al Hasan. It might not work for Liton Das or Mushfiqur Rahim. So for me, the biggest thing was working with them as individuals. Yes it’s a team, but for me I was able to have success and change their attitude because I worked with them individually. I have approached them as an individual.
daily sun: Who was the laziest of the lot?
Mario Villavarayan: I won’t say lazy. It was their attitude towards training. How they looked at training. Back then they thought, ‘I am talented enough, I don’t need to work hard on my fitness. My talent will take me to the best of places.’ It was my job to change this attitude.
daily sun: How did you manage to inspire them to change their food habits?
Mario Villavarayan: Again, it was all about changing their attitude. I could have educated them about as to why they are doing that. But what benefits would that have brought? How is it going to change when they are going to come back? I am not saying, don’t go and eat when your mother cooks for you. When you go home, and your mother cooks for you, you cannot say that you cannot eat. I know the sub-continental culture. I have been in those situations. When your mother cooks for and does all the hard work, you have to eat or else she gets upset. You want to eat because it’s the food you grew up on. But then learn to do the hard work next day. Now all of the players are in a much better state because they know- you have to go and eat what your mother cooked for you when you return home and you have to do the extra bit not to put on the extra weight. So in that sense, overall attitude towards fitness and everything have been which is really good.
daily sun: What does Bangladesh need to do in terms of fielding?
Mario Villavarayan: I don’t know if it’s fielding, batting or bowling. It’s an overall issue. Fitness will go hand in hand in whatever we do in terms of batting, bowling and comes on to fielding as well. It’s an overall thing. All of it has to go hand in hand and it has to start from the bottom up. Because suddenly you come to the camps and you are trying to improve your skill, build everything at the same time. Its hard work.
daily sun: Can you describe the famous work-ethic of Mushfiqur Rahim?
Mario Villavarayan: If you take Mushy, he overdoes things. So my job, coach’s job- is to pull him back. Because his work ethic is so intense that sometimes he tries and tries too hard. When it comes to Tamim, he is a bit different. So we need to maybe push him a little bit. But it was six years ago and now he trains on his own. Back in the day, maybe he was the last person to come and but that again, change of attitude. He knows where he wants to be and what he wants to achieve. Fitness training can vary. It can vary from individual to individual. So, again Tamim’s approach would be different, Shakib’s routine will also be different. Liton is different. My job was to sort out. Its need based, obviously. They all are strong individuals. So Tamim’s need and Mushy’s need are different. That’s the job of a trainer. What we have to remember is that we are Bangladeshis. We cannot hit big sixes like West Indians. We are skill based players. Our genes are different. Sub-continental genes are different. We try and achieve the maximum we can with what we have. We will never be able to hit big sixes like Andre Russell. Sri Lanka won a World Cup, 2014, came to a final 2012 without players with huge physique.
daily sun: Do Tiger pacers have the fitness to bowl for five days at stretch?
Mario Villavarayan: If you take the fast bowlers for example, they can do more fitness training. If they don’t bowl enough in domestic cricket, if they are not going to spend six hours on the field and bowl twenty overs per day regularly, it’s not going work. One achieves match fitness by bowling twenty overs per day in domestic cricket. Like spending six hours on the field, and then coming back and doing it in the next day too.
daily sun: How did fast bowlers of the earlier times managed to stay so fit?
Mario Villavarayan: They used to bowl a lot. You ask Courtney Walsh. They used to bowl al lot in practice. They used to bowl a lot in domestic cricket, maybe not the facilities but they used to bowl a lot. You ask Dale Steyn. If you ask him, he will say that they used to bowl al lot in practice and at matches. That is the big issue courtesy of the wickets.
daily sun: Who is the most consistently fit cricketer?
Mario Villavarayan: Mushy would be right up there. He has been consistently fit. But having said that, youngsters like Liton have improved a lot compared to what they were. Now they are doing some stuff on their own. Recently I saw Liton was running on his own without me having to tell him. That’s my success and then there’s Soumya Sarkar, Saif Hasan. All these guys have improved a lot.
daily sun: Can you tell us about the beep test and other fitness test?
Mario Villavarayan: Beep test is the best fitness test out there. It matters how you look at it. Say for Tamim, we did not do his beep test, because of his knees. So, we did a two kilometer run for him because he finds it difficult to tell. So beep test is just one aspect of your fitness. Two-kilometer run works for the guys who are having issues. It’s just one part of a jigsaw puzzle and it varies from person to person. We cannot tell everyone to do these. Nasir has been playing for twelve years. He has been through several injuries. So, one has to take all these things into considerations when you are assessing this.
daily sun: What about Yo Yo Test?
Mario Villavarayan: It’s very similar. But I like how you got to do it (beep) in a non-stop process. Where in Yo Yo, there is a bit of rest after every shuttle (round). Beep test gives me information about the players. Yo Yo obviously gives you enough information about the players as well. It is how you take those information and what you do with those. It’s one of those things. I don’t know maybe the next trainer might focus on Yo Yo. That’s fine. I am not saying that’s wrong.
daily sun: Can you tell us the about the mental strength of Mashrafe Mortaza?
Mario Villavarayan: He has had seven surgeries in his knee and to accomplish what he has done after that, is just unbelievable. What I have seen him doing in dressing room, the tapping he has been doing, what he goes through and all those things. He puts in a lot of effort. It takes a big heart to do what he has done and achieve what he has achieved.
daily sun: How do you motivate cricketers?
Mario Villavarayan: That’s a part of my responsibility as a coach. That’s when the human touch comes into play. You do what motivates the individuals, working with him- instead of going hard against him. When you are down and you don’t feel like doing anything, that’s when I come in. That’s why you need to understand them and back these players in those times.
daily sun: How much did the Holey Artisan massacre affected you as you along with family members often visited that place?
Mario Villavarayan: Yeah, it was tough time because no one expected that. It was a bit of a shock. We came back because everyone went through it. It was not a shock only for me but also for the players, for everyone it was huge shock. So everyone went through that not just me.
daily sun: Are you looking forward to working in IPL (Indian Premier League)?
Mario Villavarayan: I worked in IPL back in 2011 with Kochi Tuskers. So it won’t be a new experience. I think after being with Bangladesh and training in international cricket, suddenly going into that environment, I am really excited. I have worked with guys like David Warner, Johnny Bairstow and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Let’s see how they operate and see how I can help them. I am looking forward to it.
daily sun: Wouldn’t it be a very fast paced environment unlike Tigers’ dressing room?
Mario Villavarayan: That’s the nature of the beasts. I have to adapt to that environment just like the players do. I have to do the same thing.