Michael Jeh February 27, 2009

Is it okay to be rusty?

The question is: why were they rusty and is that acceptable in modern sport



After the first day's play in Johannesburg, Dale Steyn claimed that "rustiness" was probably to blame for them not bowling at their best. I don't think he meant it as an excuse so as far as explanations go, it was refreshingly honest. Good on him for that.

The question is: why were they rusty and is that acceptable in modern sport? They are professional athletes and this is their chosen, highly-paid profession. It is their professional responsibility to turn up to work ready to perform at their best (barring illness, injury or bad luck).

Imagine if a surgeon was operating on you and said "well, I've been on sabbatical for a few weeks so I'm feeling a bit rusty. Haven't really kept up with the latest surgical techniques. Hope you don't mind".

Or a pilot announcing on the intercom "Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts as we approach the runway. I've been using the autopilot for a few months now so haven't really practised my own landings and am feeling a bit rusty so please forgive me if we don't quite make this landing".

Jokes aside, the point I'm trying to make is that professional athletes now have an obligation to prepare themselves so that this "rustiness" should never happen again. It's not like they live tough lives, working down coal mines or breaking rocks in the hot sun. On one hand they keep talking about fatigue and workload and the need for plenty of rest. They cite the fact that it's not just the playing days but also the arduous training regime they follow which justifies their incessant calls for more rest time by the beach (despite the fact that they work a lot less days per year than the average salaried worker).

Fair enough but if that's the case, make sure you do enough work in the nets to ensure there's no rustiness when the time comes for you to perform on the big day. Like any other employee turning up to work, you should be ready to perform at your optimum. Have your holidays and rest time if you like but make sure you prepare yourself to be 100% tuned by the time your working day begins.

It's like those bowlers who waste the first few overs of a game "easing into their work" or warming up. Why didn't they do that before the game started? Those first few balls are when they are most likely to get the batsman out. With all the support staff around them, they should treat their profession like any other job and be ready to work at maximum efficiency from the first ball. We wouldn't accept a poor quality meal from a restaurant just because this was first meal of the night and the chef hadn't quite got into his stride.

It's hardly the crime of the century but it really amuses me when professional athletes (not just cricketers) keep justifying their earnings by claiming to be highly-tuned professionals but then act like casual amateurs. If it's a job, treat it like one and be ready to fire at the start of the shift.

In fairness to Steyn though, he didn't really hide behind any mystery illness or lame excuse. He just admitted that they probably weren't quite as prepared as they should have been for one of the biggest Tests of their careers. His old-fashioned honesty and the way he plays the game makes him very hard to dislike. From the outside looking in, he seems like a helluva nice bloke, albeit a tad rusty.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Senthil on March 15, 2009, 13:38 GMT

    Well, cricket is not science - there is no "form" needed to perform surgery or pilot a plane.

  • Dom P on March 4, 2009, 13:03 GMT

    The strong article Michael has written leaves the reader wanting a definite study from top sports scientists. What is the optimum workload; is net practise harder on the body than match practise?

    Has the gap between South Africa matches been that large?

    Does not The Greatest Living Englishman constantly remind us that great players once used to go to Australia by boat, have warm-up matches at the start of the tour, and that the best way to get fit for bowling is to bowl?

  • Gerard on February 28, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    This is a fairly ordinary article. Maybe the author is a bit rusty. If it's acceptable to expect cricket players to always maintain a constant performance standard, is it too much to ask that reporters do the same?

  • James on February 27, 2009, 12:08 GMT

    Agree with Ben, the rustiness that Steyn alludes to is more lack of match practice than anything else.

    Fitness is not an issue with these guys and I'm sure that they all take that responsibility with the professionalism you'd expect.

    Nets are great for honing skills but there is only so much you can do to make them replicate being out in the middle.

    However, this does raise the question as to whether or not they need the long rest periods they sometimes get. Would Steyn not have been better served in playing for his first class side? They could have had an agreement on number of overs bowled (if that was an issue) and he was really no more likely to pick up an injury than working in the nets.

  • Ben on February 27, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    Steyn got a wicket in his first over. Rustiness in terms of match practice, which you can never get in the nets.

    Easing into a spell is better than spraying the first ball to second slip ala Harmison. Everyone warms up and is ready in the morning, but running in to bowl in the middle is different.

  • Senthil on March 15, 2009, 13:38 GMT

    Well, cricket is not science - there is no "form" needed to perform surgery or pilot a plane.

  • Dom P on March 4, 2009, 13:03 GMT

    The strong article Michael has written leaves the reader wanting a definite study from top sports scientists. What is the optimum workload; is net practise harder on the body than match practise?

    Has the gap between South Africa matches been that large?

    Does not The Greatest Living Englishman constantly remind us that great players once used to go to Australia by boat, have warm-up matches at the start of the tour, and that the best way to get fit for bowling is to bowl?

  • Gerard on February 28, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    This is a fairly ordinary article. Maybe the author is a bit rusty. If it's acceptable to expect cricket players to always maintain a constant performance standard, is it too much to ask that reporters do the same?

  • James on February 27, 2009, 12:08 GMT

    Agree with Ben, the rustiness that Steyn alludes to is more lack of match practice than anything else.

    Fitness is not an issue with these guys and I'm sure that they all take that responsibility with the professionalism you'd expect.

    Nets are great for honing skills but there is only so much you can do to make them replicate being out in the middle.

    However, this does raise the question as to whether or not they need the long rest periods they sometimes get. Would Steyn not have been better served in playing for his first class side? They could have had an agreement on number of overs bowled (if that was an issue) and he was really no more likely to pick up an injury than working in the nets.

  • Ben on February 27, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    Steyn got a wicket in his first over. Rustiness in terms of match practice, which you can never get in the nets.

    Easing into a spell is better than spraying the first ball to second slip ala Harmison. Everyone warms up and is ready in the morning, but running in to bowl in the middle is different.

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  • Ben on February 27, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    Steyn got a wicket in his first over. Rustiness in terms of match practice, which you can never get in the nets.

    Easing into a spell is better than spraying the first ball to second slip ala Harmison. Everyone warms up and is ready in the morning, but running in to bowl in the middle is different.

  • James on February 27, 2009, 12:08 GMT

    Agree with Ben, the rustiness that Steyn alludes to is more lack of match practice than anything else.

    Fitness is not an issue with these guys and I'm sure that they all take that responsibility with the professionalism you'd expect.

    Nets are great for honing skills but there is only so much you can do to make them replicate being out in the middle.

    However, this does raise the question as to whether or not they need the long rest periods they sometimes get. Would Steyn not have been better served in playing for his first class side? They could have had an agreement on number of overs bowled (if that was an issue) and he was really no more likely to pick up an injury than working in the nets.

  • Gerard on February 28, 2009, 3:42 GMT

    This is a fairly ordinary article. Maybe the author is a bit rusty. If it's acceptable to expect cricket players to always maintain a constant performance standard, is it too much to ask that reporters do the same?

  • Dom P on March 4, 2009, 13:03 GMT

    The strong article Michael has written leaves the reader wanting a definite study from top sports scientists. What is the optimum workload; is net practise harder on the body than match practise?

    Has the gap between South Africa matches been that large?

    Does not The Greatest Living Englishman constantly remind us that great players once used to go to Australia by boat, have warm-up matches at the start of the tour, and that the best way to get fit for bowling is to bowl?

  • Senthil on March 15, 2009, 13:38 GMT

    Well, cricket is not science - there is no "form" needed to perform surgery or pilot a plane.