Saqib Ali is just one of the UAE national team players to have received treatment on many occasions from Chitrala Sudhaker, the team physiotherapist and trainer.
The Pakistan-born cricketer has staged remarkable comebacks from injuries and is now heading to Bangladesh to play for Mohammedan in their 50-over-a-side Premier League engagements.
For Sudhaker, it is a feeling of contentment to see one of the national team players whom he has treated achieve a milestone.
“It is partly because of Saqib’s steely determination to keep playing,” he said.
Sudhaker has treated Saqib for minor injuries before, but getting him ready after suffering a serious knee injury ahead of the UAE’s Intercontinental Cup match against Scotland at Sharjah Stadium, in 2011, was a much bigger task. Khurram Khan, the captain, had urged Sudhaker to have Saqib ready for the game.
“It was a challenge when the captain walked up to me and wanted the player for an important game,” he said.
Sudhaker worked through the night and spent more than an hour strapping the injured knee with Kinesio Tex tape and Saqib, who could hardly walk beforehand, returned the following morning to score 78.
Saqib said: “I have known Sudhaker from the time I got selected to play for the UAE in 2006. He has done miracles for me and continues to monitor my progress.”
Sudhaker has completed two decades in the profession after first working with the Andhra Ranji team in 1993.
His involvement with the UAE began when he was contracted during the team’s Under 17 Asia Cup in India.
Abid Ali, the former India international and then coach, knew Sudhaker already and arranged for him to work during that 2003/04 tournament.
“He [Ali] was the coach of the Andra state team and we knew each other quite well,” Sudhaker said. “They didn’t have a physiotherapist and hired my services. The team reached the semi-finals.”
Sudhaker was then hired by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) for the ICC six-nation tournament on February 2006.
“I was shocked when I met the UAE national team players for the first time,” he said.
“They were all in their mid-thirties, and some of them making their debuts. I was working in a professional set-up at that time and it was an age where most cricketers in India were walking into the sunset.”
Sudhaker was asked to provide a fitness report of the players. The results of which saw six players immediately dropped from the national team.
“Later I realised about the seven-year qualifying rules for the expatriate players to represent the UAE,” he said.
“Players had to deal with their day jobs before attending training unlike some other teams like Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan.
“They offered me a full-time job at that time but I already had a contract with the Andra Ranji trophy team. Eventually I accepted the ECB offer one year later.”
Sudhaker said he admires the fitness levels of the national team players.
“The UAE has played a high number of four-day matches in the international arena over the last five years without even playing two-day games domestically,” he said.
“It only goes to show the work ethic and the commitment of the players because it is not easy to compete over four days at the international level.”
Sudhaker has drawn up a programme for both the national team squad and its fringe players. They have to do circuit training on their own from a fitness chart provided by Sudhaker and are closely monitored when they are called up for trials.
For the weight watchers in the team, Sudhaker has encouraged them to consume fruits with more fibre and a glass of water half-hour before meals so their stomachs are half full.
“It is simple logic. This automatically cuts down the intake of food,” he said.
Sudhaker also has been employed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India and worked with the India U19 team when Robin Singh was in charge.
Apart from his work with cricketers, Sudhaker was a personal trainer for Pullela Gopichand, India’s former world No 4 badminton player. In 2000, he travelled with the Indian women’s cricket team for the World Cup in New Zealand and was also the physio for the Indian Board President’s team led by Rahul Dravid against Zimbabwe.