Quetta Gladiators batsman Faf du Plessis came to the defence of his teammate Azam Khan and said that a cricketer’s fitness can never be assessed by how they look. Du Plessis, however, insisted that Azam Khan will need to keep making small strides to ensure he’s the best version of himself.
Last week, Pakistan handed a maiden international call-up to Azam Khan, the son of legendary Moin Khan, and the selection instantly divided opinions. While a section of fans were delighted with the selection, owing to the x-factor element the youngster is known for, others were critical of the call-up due to concerns over fitness. Despite being just 22, Azam has been notorious for his low fitness levels and has been criticized by many for his shape. The explosive right-hander tore the Lanka Premier League apart in 2020, but discourse surrounding his shape overshadowed discussions that focused on his performance.
But while the general public have been brutal on their assessment of Azam, the 22-year-old’s Quetta Gladiators teammate Faf du Plessis, who is regarded as one of the fittest athletes in the world, reckoned that it is not fair to stigmatize a person over their shape. Du Plessis asserted that fitness is key for elite athletes, but insisted that the ‘ideal shape’ varies from person to person. The 36-year-old claimed that Azam’s looks won’t determine his success, but added that the 22-year-old would, however, need to ensure that he is putting effort to become the fittest version of himself.
"When it comes to fitness, every guy has a responsibility to try and improve every day. That looks different for every single person. For me, at an older age, I don't stop thinking about how I can improve myself as a cricketer, how I can improve my fitness, how I can improve my body, how I can improve my mind,” du Plessis said at a virtual press conference.
"The difference between guys who do it for a very short period and guys who do it for longer, it's just improving, it's smaller gains right throughout your career. For someone like him [Azam], no, he doesn't have to look like me to be successful. It would just be small improvements every day. Right now, it might be something like fielding he could focus on, getting quicker to the ball, making sure [the] hands are good, taking all the catches and gradually putting in the work to become a better version of himself, or myself, or someone."
Du Plessis also stressed that, ultimately, Azam’s goal should be to ensure that he is fit enough to run quickly between the wickets and bat for long periods. The 36-year-old noted how, in the past, greats of the game have shown that one can still be supremely fit despite not being in the ‘ideal shape’.
"It's unfair to compare different people, we're comparing two different players. He's a guy who will always come and be a power hitter and hit it a long way. What he will need to work on obviously is how can I make sure I'm fit enough to run between wickets, to get twos and threes for longer periods, when it gets hot out there, or how to make sure I don't get tired at 20-30, but stay till I get 70, 80, 90. So it looks different for every single guy.
"I'm certainly not a believer that every guy has to have a six-pack to be a successful cricketer. You work with what you have. You look at the greats in the game before, there's been guys long before me and after me and him, who will all look different but had the skillsets to perform."
Recently, opener Sharjeel Khan also came under fire for his seemingly low levels of fitness. The Pakistan management gave the left-hander an ultimatum to lose weight, and made their stance clear that they would not be compromising on fitness levels.