Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 3rd day

Australian fast bowlers blow up

For the second time in three Tests, Australia have found themselves a bowler short less than halfway through a match, a ruinous state of affairs that will cause plenty of knock-on consequences

Daniel Brettig in Hobart

December 16, 2012

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke checks on the injured Ben Hilfenhaus, Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 3rd day, December 16, 2012
Another man down: Ben Hilfenhaus has joined a list of wounded Australian fast men that now includes the following - Pat Cummins, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson © Getty Images

In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe captured American anxiety about the early days of the US space program with the recurring line "our rockets always blow up and our boys always botch it". As Ben Hilfenhaus made his painful exit from the first Test in Hobart and likely the series with a side injury, it was hard to avoid the same kind of pained pessimism that surrounded the Mercury program when thinking of the nation's fast bowlers.

For the second time in three Tests, Australia have found themselves a bowler short less than halfway through a match, a ruinous state of affairs that will cause plenty of knock-on consequences for the hosts, their captain Michael Clarke, and the bowlers who remain fit for duty. Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle put in enormous shifts in Adelaide after James Pattinson fell victim to a similar side ailment, and now the same sad pattern has repeated.

Hilfenhaus has joined a list of wounded Australian fast men that now includes the following: Ryan Harris, Pat Cummins, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood and Pattinson. Shane Watson has only recently returned from a calf problem. In the ranks beneath, the seamer Trent Copeland and the allrounder Andrew McDonald are also absent injured, and the rest of Australia's pace bowling options are currently engaged in the BBL - Twenty20 being the least helpful preparation possible for playing the five-day game.

The ways by which they have fallen by the wayside are a rich list of differing episodes. Harris is taking a long time to recover from off-season shoulder surgery, and has a problematic knee. Cummins has suffered a vast array of ailments while his body grows into fast bowling, the latest a worryingly high back stress fracture. Pattinson and Hilfenhaus both have side strains of varying specifics and seriousness, while Hastings is also nursing a tender back.

Hazlewood's recurrence of stress hot spots in his foot are both concerning and perplexing, for they appeared despite the fact he did not even play in the third Test against South Africa but merely rolled his arm over in several net sessions. And Copeland's tale is almost comical in its misfortune, as he was demoted to 12th man for New South Wales and rolled his ankle when tripping on steps from the dressing room while running the drinks.

Cricket Australia's medical and support staff are well aware that more bowlers are breaking down under their watch than should be, and are scrambling as best they can to find ways around the problems presented by two major issues. The first is the seeming inevitability of young fast bowlers to suffer injuries of various kinds until their bodies mature around the age of 24, while the second is the contradiction in training and preparation required for T20 and Test or first-class matches.

Within the coterie of team physios and doctors there is the sincerely held view that the use of substitutes in the game would be of great help to the problem of fast bowlers breaking down either through overwork or too jarring a contrast in formats, whether they be a young stripling like Cummins or a more seasoned purveyor of swing and seam like Hilfenhaus. This position is shared by some bowlers, not by the majority of cricketers, coaches or administrators.

In the absence of such radical change, the staff who work largely around the stated aims of the national team's longtime physio Alex Kountouris are trying to find ways of ensuring bowlers are better prepared for the diversity of the tasks confronting them, commonly described as the equivalent of training runners capable of both a marathon and a sprint. As Kountouris concedes, the lack of an underlying pattern to the types of injuries, the bowlers or the circumstances has made this a vexing assignment.

"I wish it was a simple answer - there's no one reason why guys are breaking down," Kountouris said. "We've got 19-year-olds who haven't played one first-class game breaking down, and we've got 30-year-olds who've been playing for five months. So the reasons why players break down are all different.

"It's not ideal, we've got more injuries than we'd like to have at the moment, it's not perfect, but we're working really hard to try to come up with solutions. The landscape's changed, the schedule and stuff like that, but we've got to get better at managing that. For us it's relatively new and we're trying to work around that at the moment."

We've got 19-year-olds who haven't played one first-class game breaking down, and we've got 30-year-olds who've been playing for five months. So the reasons why players break down are all different Alex Kountouris, Australia team physio

Australia's team performance manager Pat Howard recently remarked that the jump from Tests to T20 and back again had provided a challenge of the kind all nations are currently struggling with, though the bowlers down under seem to be the most high profile casualties, if not also the most frequent. Kountouris described the job of finding a way for bowlers to flourish in both as "not undoable", the slightly awkward choice of words reflecting the unhappy marriage of the formats.

"We've got to get better at doing it," he said. "We've put a lot of processes in place, like we had bowlers try to bowl during the Champions League and we did that, Mitchell Starc's an example and he's here, and also Ben Hilfenhaus did it. So we're putting processes in place, we're doing things different to last year trying to make things happen.

"We're winning in some areas and we're not winning in other areas, but we've got to keep evolving and try to work out the best solution for it."

The noisy lobby of former fast bowlers in Australia offers plenty of diverging views, enough to match the range of circumstances in which bowlers have been injured. The simplest arguments from the likes of Dennis Lillee are that young bowlers spend too much time in the gym and not enough time bowling or running. Geoff Lawson espouses the newer age opinion that the chiropractic profession has been sorely under-utilised by doctors and physios who remain suspicious of any techniques they did not study.

Craig McDermott, who was a highly successful fast-bowling coach for Australia over 12 months until April this year, has said that the team medical, fitness and coaching staff are doing a serviceable job of balancing sufficient training with careful management. He also feels that the demands they face are far more complex than those of his time in the Australian Test team.

"A lot of ex-players said our bowlers didn't bowl a lot, but they actually do bowl a hell of a lot at training," McDermott said earlier this year. "Some of the sessions we had last summer, when our bowlers bowl, they bowl with high intensity. Alex Kountouris did a great job of keeping guys on the park who weren't injured seriously, along with Stuart Karppinen.

"There were all sorts of things put in place last year about certain players being rested and so forth but natural attrition took care of that. Blokes get injured. If you look at the injuries that happened last summer through Test cricket, one-day cricket, T20 cricket, we had blokes injured throughout the whole summer.

"Australia's embarking on a massive amount of cricket through to the end of the second Ashes in Australia, and I would've thought it's more like 10-12 bowlers they're going to need to get through that period."

Despite the aforementioned anxiety, the Mercury astronauts of The Right Stuff were ultimately able to complete their missions without a single rocket blowing up, and only the faintest whiff of a botch job. Wolfe described those astronauts as single combat cold warriors in a battle for the heavens. One consolation for Australia's fast bowlers is that in fighting the injury war, they have plenty of company.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by dr.thirsty on (December 18, 2012, 9:16 GMT)

@Aussasinator - Love your idea of Warne, the well-known waxwork, coming back for Australia. Sadly not to be; he can only play evening games in case he melts.

Posted by Simoc on (December 17, 2012, 20:31 GMT)

It's not so bad. We get to see new bowlers tried on a regular basis. I can't remember seeing so many injuries ever in all seasons affecting the matchs in progress with Duminy, Pattinson and Hilfenhaus all leaving their team short for the remainder of the game in the four tests to date. Also if they keep getting injured we might get to see Cutting play. However Starc, Siddle and Johnson should prove resilient for the remaining tests.

Posted by hhillbumper on (December 17, 2012, 18:06 GMT)

You would think being medium pacers that the Aussie attack could handle it.But no even at there military medium pace they still get twanged up.

Posted by Aussasinator on (December 17, 2012, 14:43 GMT)

Everyone except Hussey and Warner among the top batters are injury prone. About the bowlers, the less said the better. Warne should come back for the Ashes. He's fitter than all the bowlers and Watson put together.

Posted by Zak- on (December 17, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

Aussies should train as hard as they trash talk.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2012, 7:58 GMT)

@BG4Cricket. No doubt Anderson's avoidance of T20 will be helping him but i feel his main asset is actually his bowling action. Its very smooth and technically very sound. The younger guys that are pushing themselves really hard in their delivery stride seem the most prone, Pattinson, Cummins and Kemar Roach are perpetually injured, there's lots of similarities between them.

Posted by Rob_Sydney on (December 17, 2012, 6:08 GMT)

I wonder if there is a new design of shoe or something being used? Anything that upsets the body symmetry somehow and thus increases the stress up through the legs and into the body.

I seem to remember something about Watson taking up Yoga to build core strength as opposed to big muscles and that helped him overcome his almost continual run of injuries.

Posted by jezzastyles on (December 17, 2012, 5:13 GMT)

A recurring problem over the past 2 years, and it won't change anytime soon. The Ashes tour could be a real problem for us if this trend continues. I reckon the Lankan's are in with a good chance of chasing down the total posted by Oz - a record chase for them if they succeed.

Posted by jimbond on (December 17, 2012, 4:30 GMT)

Now Australia would be happy that one of their top order batsmen is Shane Watson. With him around, none of the other three active bowlers would be very loaded. It would be a lucky day if Lyon bowls well and takes a larger share of the load.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 17, 2012, 4:28 GMT)

i also think hank lawson is on the money with the call about the chiros not being involved. having studied chiropratic units in biomechanics i can say that that sort of expertise is PERFECTLY suited for fast bowlers more so than any other athlete in any other sport

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 17, 2012, 4:26 GMT)

Clyde -- haha these arent pommy medium pacers from the bygone era mate these are proper fast bowlers. cannot compare. ben should not have been selected if he wasnt fit enough its the strength and conditioning teams fault and they need to be held accountable. luckily MJ can come in for boxing day and maybe even a jackson bird or ben cutting can get an opportunity to make a debut that either of them should have made in perth.

Posted by zenboomerang on (December 17, 2012, 1:52 GMT)

Answer = better management of bowlers annual workload... The most important is that there is not a defined cricket season with the proper breaks in-between... Bowlers need to get their core body fitness to a very high level, but that cannot be maintained indefinitely as that fitness will decrease over a 6 Test summer, then followed by BBL, ODI series & preceded by T20WC & Champ Leag... McGrath has repeatedly said that he needed the time out of cricket to build up that core fitness to be ready for the demands of Test/ODI series...

Posted by zenboomerang on (December 17, 2012, 1:50 GMT)

@Peterincanada... re: Johnson - agree, he has nearly always been ready to bowl... Also that foot injury was actually the result of a piece of metal being in his foot from when he was a kid & not being found until that injury batting in SA - a long time for a bowler to not get any x-rays in that region... His 2 innings batting (not out both times) were a major reason we won that historic match...

Posted by funkybluesman on (December 17, 2012, 1:03 GMT)

I think that CA's policy brought in to prevent injury likely causes it. Under-age fast bowlers are limited in the number of overs they are allowed to bowl in a spell and a day. The limitation is quite small. So they don't get lots of overs in their bodies. If they then hit state cricket at a young age like Cummins, he's gone in a very short space of time from not being allowed to bowl more than a dozen overs in a day, to the long bowling spells of the Sheffield Shield. No wonder the body can't cope.

When young men have a serious growth spurt you need to back it off a bit and make sure the body strengthen's up to match the new dimensions, but apart from those times they just need to get more bowling in their bodies.

Probably having a proper off season to have a rest, followed by good pre-season preparation probably wouldn't hurt either!

Posted by Busie1979 on (December 17, 2012, 0:09 GMT)

Australia is lucky that this period has coincided with extraordinary depth in its fast bowling stocks. There are realistically at least 10 guys who have not played test cricket yet who wouldn't look out of place. This fast bowling depth is papering over a crisis. Imagine if the fast bowling stocks were as thin as the batting stocks currently are? Perhaps fast bowlers should get paid a substantial bonus if they don't play in the IPL or other T20 competitions and preference should be given to bowlers that don't play T20. Cricket Australia can pay them extra with revenue raised in the Big Bash. Not a great solution, but if T20 really is as much of a culprit as people are saying that it is, the answer is to stop them playing T20. @Kitkatz - really good point - I would like to hear this issue addressed by sports scientists.

Posted by   on (December 16, 2012, 23:42 GMT)

fast bowlers get fit by bowling. By doing weights and cross training they over develop some parts of the bio mechanical system and fundementally unbalance the stresses on the system. Muscles become too large for there supporting ligaments and tendons which don't develop so quickly. Let bowlers bowl to build there strength

Posted by BG4cricket on (December 16, 2012, 22:05 GMT)

@Jono Makim - well said mate and very much supported by McGrath's comments on TV. I think the other issue though might be the number of formats over the year, particularly R20 and the IPL/BBL etc. This is supported by the fact that Anderson has bowled almost twice as many deliveries in international cricket this year of Australia's leading quick (Hilfy) and yet he has been remarkably durable. I can only reason that it is because he does not play T20 and this allows some blocks of recovery and prep time for the longer forms that incidentally also allow for longer spells to be bowled. I also think the players need to take some onus and perhaps turn down some of the T20 riches to preserve their earnings and longevity in the other formats as seen by Siddle and Anderson - after all history will only fondly remember great Test and perhaps ODI players

Posted by SurlyCynic on (December 16, 2012, 21:35 GMT)

Not sure why Aussies bowlers get injured getting out of bed these days - are Aussies getting softer? But the substitute idea is ridiculous and would be abused. And would encourage teams to gamble on bowlers with niggles knowing they could sub them if they break down. If you're always a bowler down to injure then select teams with more bowling options.

Posted by disco_bob on (December 16, 2012, 21:21 GMT)

Maybe we should try underarm bowling.

Posted by dsig3 on (December 16, 2012, 21:15 GMT)

What are the sports science boffins thinking now? This is incredibly frustrating and makes me angry. It cost us the series with SA and now threatens a potential win in Hobart. The science is not working, this cant be a coincidence.

Posted by Mervo on (December 16, 2012, 21:06 GMT)

The "Performance Manager" (love that term!) should obviously go as he is not doing his job well. These guys are over training. Lillie and Thompson never trained as much and consequently were able to play more cricket for longer. Hastings should never have been in and Aust side. He is an average ODI player.

So what happened to Ben Cutting, once picked for Aust, but was 12th man? He just keeps getting wickets in QLD and making runs ...

Of, he is from QLD. That is a problem!

Posted by luckyoldson on (December 16, 2012, 21:03 GMT)

Bring On Jackson Bird -- for goodness sake !!!!!!!!

Posted by pat_one_back on (December 16, 2012, 20:50 GMT)

Is the problem that new? Recall McDermott, Brece Rude, Fleming, Gillespie and young Brett Lee spending plenty of time injured or in recovery, are we a little skewed by McGrath's amazing run?

Posted by alarky on (December 16, 2012, 20:37 GMT)

Mr Brettig, I am an environmentalist and ardent cricket fan. I am very impressed with the very beautiful green environs that I've seen on show at the Hobart Cricket Ground. However, please lodge this complaint with the cricketing authorities of that ground: I am very disappointed to see that old tractor that is being used by the ground staff in those environmentally beautiful playing conditions bellowing out those large plumes of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. It is unhealthy for the players, for the spectators and for the general environment. We in St Vincent and the Grenadines would not allow that level of pollution to spoil the soothing atmosphere that is always present at our beautiful Arnosvale playing field.

Posted by PrasPunter on (December 16, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

how times change !!! Hilfy was flying high, Pattinson was sending down shivers down the indians' spine and we thought we were well over it. And MJ would never get a chance. Alas !! Things have come a full circle - Neither of these guys are gonna play this summer and MJ is next-in-line. Who knows !! may be this is the silver lining, the god-given opportunity for MJ to stage some sort of comeback. Will it be for good measure ??

Posted by Peterincanada on (December 16, 2012, 15:57 GMT)

@kitkatz - Your point reminds me of the time when WI ruled the world. Their bowlers were a damn sight faster than ours but I don't remember any of them apart from Bishop spending much time off the park. A lot of people rightly complain about MJ's inconsistency. In one way he is consistent. He is always fit to bowl. His one injury came while batting.

Posted by Clyde on (December 16, 2012, 14:58 GMT)

I don't recall Trueman and Statham, whom I watched, having such breakdowns, but I am not one of cricket's historians. I have an impression these two may actually have exercised their bowling muscles more than present-day bowlers, and, without being at all informed about the matter, I suggest that perhaps all today's general fitness and gym work, while it may benefit fielding, may be at the expense of bowling fitness. And it may not be just the exercise, as in a busy playing schedule energy may be being spent in the wrong direction, since fast bowling takes so much energy.

Posted by Tumbarumbar on (December 16, 2012, 14:47 GMT)

@Brendan Carter - I was under the impression that Australia didn't win Adelaide because Pattinson only bowled half a dozen overs in the game and Nathan Lyon bowled too fast and too flat to get wickets in the second innings. Given Hilfenhaus didn't play in Perth and the SA batters managed to score more runs at a faster rate than at any other time in the series I think ascribing the series loss to him is a trifle harsh.

Posted by stormy16 on (December 16, 2012, 13:50 GMT)

This is not beyond a joek really and from Aus of all places where everything man can get to excel is sport is available. The team next needs to travel to India and then England where things are going to be even tougher.

Posted by Last_ride on (December 16, 2012, 13:46 GMT)

Suddenly Marcio will say the reason Sri Lanka drew the match is because they are a bowler short.Dont blame him though.

Posted by   on (December 16, 2012, 12:52 GMT)

I think one of the bigger problems is that they just aren't getting that 3-4 month break away from cricket anymore. It allows niggles to build up, pressure applies to other parts of the body, actions get out of whack, breakdowns occur. If you keep driving your car with a flat tyre you are going to bugger your axle! Siddle is the only bowler in the team who has looked 100% right and stayed injury free this summer, he was the only one to have gotten away from matchplay for the entire winter. I don't think it has anything at all to do with format changes, bowling is bowling, a bowler will change his length in limted overs cricket, but that is really the only alteration. It probably doesn't help that we have such a high proportion of youngsters and a couple of perenial breakdowns in Harris and Watto, but plenty of other teams have similar problems. England are missing Broad and Finn as well as Tremlett for the entire summer just gone, half their bowling stock.

Posted by kitk on (December 16, 2012, 12:31 GMT)

Has anyone thought about the much more hectic fielding that fast bowlers do nowadays compared to even 15 years ago. They are throwing themselves about much more, diving etc and I am sure there is training for this. Remember how Courtney Walsh loped around, not even throwing overhand, saving himself for his bowling. I am sure this is important.

Posted by TheBengalTiger on (December 16, 2012, 11:40 GMT)

They need to learn some manners first and foremost

Posted by   on (December 16, 2012, 11:18 GMT)

Bowlers are paid, huge amounts of money, too play in 20/20 tournaments, worldwide. They now play 12 months of Cricket every year, Hilfenhaus had 6 month`s off last season, too correct his round arm, action. Since last Summer, he has played continually, and returned too his round arm, pie-chucking action, all summer he has bowled the same shit, and he is way down on pace. If not for Peter Siddle, we would have lost 3-Zip, to the Saffers, and the Lankans, would be still batting. Enough is enough, Hilfenhaus`, last game for Australia, Aussie`s would have won in Adelaide, if he backed up, Siddle and Lyon. He cost us the series against the Saffers. Enough said,

Posted by Meety on (December 16, 2012, 11:04 GMT)

Whilst the support cop a fair bit of flak for the depth of injuries, I really do believe strategy plays a major part. By strategy I mean the players commitments to workload over the course of a year. I think bowlers should be limited to the amount of changing formats they encounter. Oz have enough bowlers of varying stages in their careers whereby we should be able to have a core of specialists for each format. For whatever reasons - McKay is considered an ODI specialist, that's fine, I'd rather him playing ODIs than say Siddle. Iwould like Oz to look at NOT selectiing Cummins for Internationals for a year or so. His body needs to get that core strength up from playing FC cricket.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (December 16, 2012, 10:46 GMT)

You gotta wonder how much the in-between lifestyle affects them. When they're not playing or training, are they too sedentary? Did Hilf have problems in the early days when he was a labourer during the week? (A brickie I think). If they want to reduce the load on bowlers in Tests, allow the 12th man to play as a bowler only and then have a13th man to carry the drinks. (On a side note - I still reckon captains shouldn't have to name their 12th man until after the toss.)

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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