New Delhi:
 Their resumption of training still on hold due to government guidelines, elite Indian swimmers say the continued restrictions on use of pools will not only affect their performance in the next few years but is also taking a toll on their mental health.

Swimmers in the country have not entered the pools since March 25, when the first coronavirus-forced lockdown was announced. The latest Ministry of Home Affairs' guidelines on the third phase of easing lockdown restrictions still prohibited the use of swimming pools till August 31.

Srihari Nataraj, who achieved the 'B' qualification mark last year in the 100m backstroke event with a national record 54.69sec, said this forced break has pushed back the careers of swimmers by almost a year, the effects of which will be felt in the Tokyo Olympics and the next Asian Games.

"Had we been training, all of us would have made substantial progress. Now it's going to take us at least 3-4 months to make the same amount of progress, setting us back by almost an entire year," Nataraj told PTI.

The 19-year-old needs to bring his timing down to 53.85secs to be sure of a Tokyo Olympics spot.

"The things I would have achieved in March, I will achieve in December if I get back to training now. We are wasting a lot of time in our career. It will affect our performance in Tokyo Olympics, 2022 Asian Games," Nataraj added.

Kushagra Rawat, who has achieved the 'B' qualification mark in the three events of 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle, said the lack of training opportunities was also affecting the Indian swimmers mentally.

"Swimming pools have opened all over the world, so it keeps playing on our mind that they (who have started training) have improved their timings while we haven't even been in a pool for four months," Rawat said.

"It is such a discipline that even if you miss out for a day or two, that impacts your performance. When I took a three month break for my 12th board exams it took me three months to get back to the earlier timings."

The Swimming Federation of India (SFI) has been asking for permission for the Olympic hopefuls to resume training since May but to no avail.

Dronacharya award-winning coach Nihar Ameen also expressed disappointment at the government's decision to keep the swimming pools shut for the elite swimmers.

"We keep getting promises that in the next unlock the pools will be opened. Swimming is one of the safest sports and if all the other sports including contact sports and gyms are open then why not swimming?" Ameen asked.

Nataraj, Virdhawal Khade, Sajan Prakash, Rawat, Aryan Makhija and Advait Page are the six swimmers who have achieved the 'B' qualification mark in their respective events for the Olympics and are aiming for the 'A' standard.

Out of them, Prakash and Makhija have been lucky enough to resume training. While Prakash, who spent the entire lockdown at an academy in Phuket, started training when the pools opened in Thailand, Makhija flew to Alabama, USA, where he is enrolled at Auburn University, in mid July.

However, Nataraj, Rawat and Khade do not have any plans to go outside for training.

"The only option for me is what the federation is planning. Others going abroad are already enrolled in universities. I don't have that option," Nataraj said.

"I'm relying on federation as I can't afford to train abroad. Apart from the cost there are also logistical issues," Rawat said.

Khade also said he will not travel abroad to train in personal capacity.

Earlier this week, the SFI said it was looking to organise a training camp for its Olympic hopefuls outside the country.

 

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Southampton: Pakistan slumped to 126-5 before a third stoppage for rain led to an end to play on the first day of the second test against England at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.

Abid Ali struck 60 after being dropped twice early in his 111-ball innings and was comfortably Pakistan's top scorer on a tough day for the tourists in changing weather.

Jimmy Anderson was retained for the match, despite struggling in England's three-wicket win in the first test in Manchester last week, and the paceman repaid that faith by removing Shan Masood (1) in the third over and captain Azhar Ali (20) after lunch. It gave England's record wicket-taker figures of 2-35 and he is up to 592 in tests.

After the toss won by Pakistan was made under sunny skies, Pakistan began batting in overcast conditions and a shower brought up an early lunch. More rain came midway through the second session, which the tourists finished on 85-2.

And only about an hour was possible after tea, when Pakistan lost three wickets including Abid, who edged recalled seamer Sam Curran to Rory Burns at second slip.

Burns had been the second slip fielder to drop Abid before lunch, the right-handed opener having already been given a life on 0 by Dom Sibley's drop diving to his left at third slip.

As with Burns, Sibley made amends by taking a smart catch low down to remove Asad Shafiq (5) to give Stuart Broad his first wicket.

That brought Fawad Alam to the crease for his first test innings in 11 years after being recalled and it last four balls, when the left-hander was trapped lbw by Chris Woakes for a duck. A not-out decision was given but England reviewed and Hawk-Eye showed the ball was hitting the top of middle stump.

Babar Azam was 25 not out when bad light eventually led to stumps being called. Mohammad Rizwan was on 4.

Pakistan trails 1-0 in the three-match series. Another victory for England will clinch a first test series against Pakistan in 10 years, and a second series of this pandemic-affected summer having already beaten the West Indies.