McGrath calls for off-season for fast bowlers
Glenn McGrath has said that the recent spate of injuries to Australia's fast bowlers has largely been a result of a cramped calendar with no allowance for an off-season. James Pattinson became the most recent casualty after he was ruled out for the remainder of Australia's domestic season following a recurrence of shin-stress problems. It was only one of Australia's injury-related woes in a week when Peter Siddle was diagnosed with stress fractures in the back and Ben Hilfenhaus retired from first-class cricket following persistent hamstring trouble.
McGrath, who is currently in Chennai on a coaching assignment with the MRF Pace Foundation, reckoned that the workload needed to be tailored in accordance with the bowlers' understanding of their bodies. "Bowlers need to know themselves and what sort of workload they need off the field," he told ESPNcricinfo. "For me, personally, the more I bowled, the better I felt whereas other guys need to be managed a bit more. So there is no one rule for everyone.
"Some of our injuries come from overbowling or high workloads, but it is more to me the fact that we need an off-season. Fast bowlers need an off-season because bowling and running deplete our strength. So as the season goes, our strength falls off and if we don't have an off-season to build it back up sooner or later, we are going to be injured."
McGrath attributed the absence of an off-season to Hilfenhaus' relatively early retirement from the longer format, but was nevertheless hopeful that younger bowlers like Pattinson would become less susceptible to breakdowns once their bodies matured with age.
"I think Hilfy had a very good career. Towards the end, there were a few injuries and I will probably put that down to not having an off-season," he said. "I saw him at the start of one summer where he looked physically strong, bowling quick and bowling good swing and had a great season. Next season, [he] probably didn't look quite as strong and injury became a problem.
"James Pattinson started fairly young. He runs in and puts everything on the line every ball. You are going to go through injuries. He is nearing the mid-20 age where hopefully he will have less injuries moving forward."
While he empathised with the demands made on fast bowlers, he was critical of the work ethic of the present generation. "[For] young fast bowlers, the harder they work the better they are going to be. That's where I think young bowlers probably let themselves down - they get to a certain level or play IPL, they think they have made it. They don't work as hard, they don't train as hard, they don't recover as well and that has a big effect. It's hard work to get to a certain level and it is harder work to stay there and that's the mindset young bowlers need to have."
McGrath, a strong advocate of fast bowlers playing across formats, said it was becoming an increasingly difficult decision to reconcile between playing as often as possible and opting to rest. "I think that's as much up to the individual as it is to the association. You got to weigh up what do you want," he said. "Do you want to be sort of playing for your country for as long as possible or the lure of playing IPL cricket and the money up for offer there? It is a tough decision and I'd wonder what I would choose. But, [at the] end of the day, if you are injured, you are not playing for your country, you are not playing IPL, you are not playing any cricket.
"A team is no longer 11 or 12 players; it is now a squad of 20-25 players. I think that's how teams around the world are managing it; giving certain players tours off. I am not sure they have really hit on the correct formula just yet, but they are working towards it."
McGrath, however, believed Siddle could emerge stronger from his recent injury crisis that led to uncertainty over his future. Siddle played the first Test against New Zealand in Wellington and picked up three wickets in the first innings, but had to miss the second Test after suffering back spasms during the second innings. He was subsequently diagnosed with stress fractures which will keep him out of competitive cricket for a significant amount of time. Siddle is also set to get his troublesome left ankle operated during the layoff.
Despite the odds stacked against Siddle, who will turn 32 in November, McGrath suggested that his track record marked him out as a tough competitor. "Peter Siddle has done an exceptional job. Not that long ago, he has taken 200 Test wickets which is a great effort, no mean feat there," he said.
"He has been written off for the last few years and yet he keeps coming back, keeps performing. It [Siddle's vegan diet] is up to the individual. If that is what works for him, then good luck to him. But I think there have been injuries to other bowlers which has allowed him to continue on and you have to make the most of every opportunity you get. So for Sids, I am really proud of what he has been able to achieve, and he is still there and he is still bowling."
McGrath admitted there might be a "little bit of credibility" to the theory that playing on drop-in pitches and grounds that are used for Australian Rules Football have led to harder centre squares, and have consequently increased the possibility of injuries. But his major concern was how drop-in pitches loaded the equation entirely in favour of batsmen.
"I think the drop-in wickets they are playing on these days are so good," he said. "They are flat, they don't offer anything to the fast bowlers and they don't change over five days. Then bowlers will try to bowl quicker, and I think then, all of a sudden, their technique changes and they put more stress on the body and then more chances of being injured. They need to leave a little bit more grass to balance it out a bit."
McGrath was also appreciative of the efforts of his former bowling partner Craig McDermott, who will step down as Australia's assistant coach after the World T20. "I think he has done an exceptional job as fast bowling coach for Australia for a long time," he said. "He worked well with the young guys in the Australian team. He was more about the thought processes in the game - the lengths to bowl, getting the ball up there, making the batsman play, getting a bit of swing."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo