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July 1, 2012

Why do so many bowlers get injured?

Michael Jeh
Pat Cummings sent down his first international deliveries in England, England v Australia, 1st ODI, Lord's, June 29, 2012
Pat Cummins is out of action once again  © AFP
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Eighteen months ago I wrote about the relative fragility of the modern cricketer, and in doing so, questioned the veritable army of medical and conditioning staff that have now become part of any first-class squad.

Hearing today's news that Pat Cummins is out of the England tour with a side strain and Jimmy Anderson is temporarily sidelined with a groin strain, neither injury seemingly an 'impact' injury or accidental, I wonder again how these little niggles keep happening in ultra-professional sporting environments. How do both Cummins and Anderson, supposedly 'prepared' for peak performance by highly qualified conditioners, break down after just 10 overs of work? Not just on game day, but even in the days and months leading up to an international series, these guys have been analysed, cosseted and massaged down to their last sinew. They fly business class, warm up for hours before they bowl, warm down under strict supervision and yet they seem to be breaking down at a rate that just makes a mockery of all the medical support staff.

I'm not necessarily blaming the conditioners; maybe the modern international cricketer is a lot softer than the average common or garden variety playing club cricket anywhere in the world, but it still begs the question of how these muscle strains keep happening at the highest levels. Do the rest of us mere mortals not have the muscles that the Cummins and Andersons of the world strain after bowling 10 overs? Yes, that may be the case but we also don't get the care and attention that these lads benefit from, so what gives? Did the player ignore medical advice or protocols when it came to stretching exercises, hydration, compression suits or whatever else he was instructed to do to ensure he could get through a ten-over spell without having to pull up too sore to play the next game? Most bowlers pull up a bit sore after a decent spell of bowling but 99% of them can bowl again later that afternoon, let alone the next game.

It's an issue that I'm genuinely keen to understand. I'm not doubting that the player is injured and I'm not doubting that he has been declared unfit to play the next game but what I'm trying to get my head around is how it can keep happening in international cricket these days? All the factors should be pulling the statistics in the opposite direction and yet, across almost every international team, these soft-tissue strains seem to be occurring at much higher rates than in the past. Think about it … better quality footwear, compression garments, therabands, ice baths, massages, yoga, sports drinks, you name it. Off the field, most teams have multiple support staff with high-quality diagnostic equipment, video analysis, superior injury prevention regimes that are part of a personalised year-round program. Players sleep in single rooms so their sleep patterns are unaffected by the disturbance caused by a room-mate and they are now more in tune with their own bodies than any previous generation of cricketer through an almost narcissistic pre-occupation with themselves.

It's not just cricket that suffers this affliction of the uber-fit athlete who is engineered like a Ferrari to the point where they're next to useless when it comes to durability. How many professional athletes (pick your sport) do nothing else with their lives other than train, recover, recuperate and perform on the big stage? Some of them don't even get through the pre-season training. The number of cricketers I come across who often can't take the field for the real contest because they couldn't survive the pre-season stuff. How do the conditioning staff explain that to the coach, the CEO or the Board? It happens too often, in all countries, in all professional sports, to be a figment of my imagination. Cricket is especially frustrating because it's not an impact sport in the sense that you're not being subject to the body contact injuries that you would expect from say rugby or football, let alone the obvious injury-prone sports like boxing, cycling and downhill skiing.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall when the medical staff breaks the news of the latest injury to the High Performance Director. "Umm, sorry boss, we prepared him like a pedigree racehorse, started his warm up before breakfast, post-game treatment supervised in the Arctic tundra by a team of ER specialists but pushed him too far - asked him to bowl a few overs in the game. It was all going swimmingly well until then. In fact, the good news is that when it comes to swimming, his lap times are good in the recovery pool".

Flippant I may be, but you'd have to wonder if someone along the chain of command is starting to question whether having a phalanx of medical support staff and attendant personalised programs, diets etc is actually making any difference to the bottom line. It's not like we're trading reliability for excellence, in the same way that you trade a Toyota for a Maserati perhaps. I mean, we're not seeing a whole generation of bowlers exceeding the 160 kph mark, even in short, spectacular careers that burn brilliantly today and burn out tomorrow. They're still not bowling any quicker or more accurately than the Holdings, Thomsons and Tysons of yesteryear. Yes, the standard of fielding is vastly superior and the batsmen seem to be more muscle-bound but their durability is no better than it ever was. In fact, it is arguably worse.

It's clearly not an area that any country will be prepared to cut back on so expect to see even more medical and conditioning staff employed to try to arrest this growing incidence of 'soft' injuries. Looking at it from the perspective of a mediocre cricketer who can bowl a thousand overs of tripe without breaking down every hour or so, I just can't understand where the source of the problem lies. Is it the cricketer who is too soft, is it the medical staff who are too precious with their diagnosis, or is it almost a case of a 'system' that has to justify itself by withdrawing cricketers from action when it might be best to just bowl themselves back into rude health?

I wonder if the central contract system has anything to answer for? If players were only paid for physically taking the field, might we see a lot more bowlers playing through minor niggles and being none the worse for it? More controversially, what if the medical staff were paid according to a system that was based on players being fit enough to play? I daresay there'd be a lot less cotton-wooling and a lot more of the "there's nothing wrong with you that a good ten over spell into the wind won't fix my boy".

On that note, as my typing finger requires the sort of ice treatment that a cold glass of something will no doubt fix, on strict medical advice, this writer has been instructed by She Who Must Be Obeyed to pull up stumps and do some cross-training in the washing-up and drying department. It's the sort of medical advice that will result in injury if ignored!

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

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Posted by Widiyawati on (September 7, 2012, 22:05 GMT)

in KK is CPS Bowl. a0CPS Bowl has been the number one chcoie for many bowlers in KK even after U-Bowl is opened at 1Borneo Hypermall. The 28 synthetic lanes bowling alley, equipped with fully automatic

Posted by Stewart on (August 30, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

Zaki, have you ever watched Javelin? The last stride is very similar to bowling....

Watch a clip of javelin throw and then a clip of brett lee bowling.

Disregard the fact Javelin can use a bent arm for one moment. the last stride is similar, the hip drive is similar the trunk rotation is similar and the stretch relex in the shoulder is similar.

Posted by Zaki on (August 19, 2012, 9:43 GMT)

I saw few experts here leaving their coments,every one is perfect if we follow.some questions come javelin throw & bowling two different tacniques,different methoods, fast bowling all about aggration,acclaration, bit jump,break,balance like shokobser(car & bike),generate speed 100mile. many things involbe's in one sports..no others sports has..so please help peoples to get good ideas from you...arguments are not the soluations...

Posted by Stewart on (July 3, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

Not sure if the above Ian Pont is 'the' Ian pont or not, but if it is I have a question about bowling actions linked to Javelin technique.

Maximal fast bowling and Javelin throwing is not dissimilar. Both are trying to achieve alignment to generate power and speed.

Javelin throwers do not lift their leg high, they seem to try and skim across the ground so that speed is transfered into the delivery stride, Javelin then employs stretch reflex to generate further speed (i have missed out lots of things, ie feet, hips, shoulder aligned, chest drive etc) Javelin then pivots on the braced leg, whereas alot of bowlers brace the front leg and fold at the waist (i always think that this must place stress on backs and hamstrings)

My question is why are bowlers not looking at the top Javelin throwers for clues about accessing power more ?

Posted by acricketsortofchap on (July 3, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

I believe there is a great deal in the argument that years ago, bowlers bowled with their own, natural body actions which had adapted naturally to suit their own physique and therefore was more enduring. As Dr Khan says, cricket requires flexibility and not hardened muscle mass. Many of the "greats" espouse bowling as a means of getting for for bowling. If one goes back to the days when manual labour was the norm for more people than it is today, and when bowlers generally came out of manual occupations to become bowlers, it seems than their bodies stood up to the rigours of bowling better. I also think it must be true that those of the past played through the sort of niggles which sideline modern bowlers simply because medical science has advanced to such an extent that these natters are better understood than they were previously.

Posted by katandthat3 on (July 3, 2012, 5:35 GMT)

Agree with quite a few of the guys here. Bowlers/cricketers are now that highly/finely tuned that they are as close to breaking point as they are to peak performance. All bowlers get injuries but are we seeing more different types than before. In Rugby league we are seeing injuries like torn bi-ceps and peck muscles which 15 years ago was unheard of. Agree with DR Ahad Khan that we don't need hours in the gym but more to do with getting strength and conditioning from running etc. Also the cotton wool thing isn't helped by ex players suing cricket associations or medical staff which creates a paranoia of resting players when in reality they could play on and continue to push through niggles and get more match hardened. It's all over cautious. Same with Meety, the itinery has changed too. Less time to aclimatise, staright in to intense international games and then back on a plane to somewhere else. T20's are far more intense than people give them credit for too. See how it goes.

Posted by Dr. Ahad Khan on (July 3, 2012, 0:39 GMT)

Cricket is not Rugby - we do not need hardened & rigid Muscle Mass - do away with Weight Trainings & you will not see so many Muscle Tears / Ligament Strains / Micro-fractures, etc. Cricket requires flexibility of muscles. Gary Sobers I am sure, would not have used Weight Training. Cricketers require a Lithe & a flexible Body - Swimming / Jogging / Skipping Rope exercises are all that a Cricketer needs. No Weight Training is what is needed. Dr. Ahad Khan

Posted by retaish on (July 2, 2012, 18:44 GMT)

kapil dev played all but one test in his career consecutively ,thats almost impossible for a bowler these days.kd was an athlete though

Posted by Devraj on (July 2, 2012, 17:30 GMT)

I believe the cricketers of the present era are not physically "soft", but are forced to become mentally "soft" owing to the growing competition for a place in their respective national side. The cricketers are playing it way too safe to take to the field with a minor injury and end up aggravating it to the extent that may take them 6-8 months to recover out of it. Meanwhile, they are recovering their spot in the team would be taken up by some other player who given the opportunity would give his everything to secure spot for himself in the side. This would mean that the injured cricketer would have to warm the benches even after having recovered and that's the kind of risk the cricketer of the present era is not willing to take.

Posted by Cake on (July 2, 2012, 17:12 GMT)

Interesting article and wonderful views expressed by ALL. 2 theories i found interesting- (1)Modern bowlers bowl less when compared to bowlers of the previous generations(2)Bowling actions were lot more natural in the past while they are being altered in the name of technique and whatever not thus increasing stress on the muscles involved during bowling. A third theory that i have is that when compared to sports like Soccer,Tennis or athletics,bowlers should theoretically have much lesser strain. Imagine running continuously for close to 2 hours. And here is where i think Cricket is different. It seems to me that Cricket is a start-stop-start game. A Bowler bows 6 balls and then goes to fine leg with little or very less running. He again runs only when a ball is hit towards him still a start-stop-start until he fields another one. This whole phenomenon does not allow a bowler's body to adjust which may cause a lot of injuries.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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