Fitter, faster, stronger. The Black Caps haven’t yet conquered the cricketing world but coach Mike Hesson believes his side are the best conditioned team around – and that includes other New Zealand sporting codes.
Under former Olympic sprinter Chris Donaldson, the team’s strength and conditioning coach for the past seven years, they’re a lean, mean machine with Trent Boult still leading the way but the other fast bowlers and batsman Henry Nicholls snapping at his heels.
“Chris talks to the other trainers and our side is right up there in terms of standards set throughout the world,” Hesson said.
“He also talks to other sports in New Zealand, and I don’t think some other sports want it publicly known that ours are some of the better ones going around.
If you’re one of the 21 Black Caps contracted players there’s nowhere to hide. Donaldson, who held the national 200m record of 20.42 seconds for 20 years until Joseph Millar beat it last year remains competitive and expects his players to be, too.
All 21 are ranked across five categories: speed (30m time trial); strength (squat, deadlift, bench press, bench pull); fitness (yo-yo test and 1500m); body composition (skin folds, weight) and power (double-foot bounce, single leg hop).
Ranking lists are sent out to everyone, which can be brutal for those lower down the order, and each player can compare with his previous marks as a target for improvement.
Donaldson said the fast bowlers were generally among the fittest: Boult, Adam Milne and Tim Southee. The top three fastest over 30m are Doug Bracewell, Jimmy Neesham and Martin Guptill while on the strength side Neil Wagner and Neesham are up there on the bench press.
“Overall, Trent is right up there as well as Milney. The quicker bowlers tend to sit in the top group. Henry Nicholls is exceptional, as a batter, he’s one of the top fitness-wise,” Donaldson said.
“Tom Latham is exceedingly fit. I could go through the entire contract list. Some are gifted at certain things a bit more than others; Martin Guptill is extremely fast.
“The biggest idea of the programme is stop them getting injured then let’s improve their physical attributes so on-field they dominate.”
So are they ahead of the other sides in world cricket?
Donaldson said the New Zealand players stacked up extremely well when comparing numbers with other team trainers.
“Our average yo-yo is 20.2 across the team and that’s extremely high as a group. We’ve got some extremely fit guys, good athletes.
“The fast bowlers have to be top of the ranks because they generate the most force. They should be fittest and fastest, they have to deal with the highest impact so they have to be able to cope.
“We have to be the best at what we do because we don’t have the population base of cricketers that other countries have. We’ve got to better than everyone else in what we can control which is fitness and conditioning.”
Hesson likened it to a horse trainer and a thoroughbred: you can’t keep rolling the players out and expect them to be at their peak throughout the year.
Hence the rest and rotation, and the value of off-season breaks with New Zealand gets more than the major nations. Boult, especially, came back at the peak of his powers in India in October after a quiet few months with minimal bowling and base fitness work.
“They’re not robots. What they do is tough and they need to build up that base again to have another push at it. Trent and Tim are both really integral parts of our side and we have to look after them.”