January 13, 2013

Adequate rest resulting in injuries now?

Michael Jeh
Mitchell Starc stretches at a training session on the eve of the first ODI against Sri Lanka, Melbourne, January 10, 2013
The bowlers may be aerobically fitter, but is it resulting in less injuries? No is the answer  © Getty Images


Anyone who has read my recent posts will know that I've been shouting myself hoarse over the injury epidemic that is sweeping through world cricket. The last time I wrote on that topic was during the Boxing Day Test when I lampooned the 'system' for resting Mitchell Starc because there was a likelihood that he might get injured while at the same time allowing Shane Watson to play when he was injured. Things have now gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Starc is now unable to play in the second ODI in Adelaide, suffering calf-soreness. It begs the question: how does one pick up a pseudo-injury like that even after being rested? Was he not rested for long enough? Should he have also been rested for the Sydney Test? Should Watson have been allowed to play when he was injured in a medical culture that rests a team-mate who might get injured? It's just plain ridiculous. At what point are we going to accept that the current system is simply not producing better outcomes?

It's not just Australia that suffers these indignities. Vernon Philander played in Brisbane in mid-November, missed the Adelaide Test due to injury at the end of November, played the Perth decider in early December, had three weeks off before the Cape Town Test against New Zealand and is now unavailable to front up again (after a three-day Test against the Kiwis). Is anyone inside Cricket South Africa questioning why this is happening to a premier fast bowler who presumably is receiving the best medical advice that money can buy? Is his fitness, recovery and rehabilitation so poor that he is unable to play more than one game in succession? And this is his profession?

No point asking the Sri Lankan conditioning staff for any tips. Chanaka Welegedara tore a hamstring bowling at 125 km/h in an early spell at the MCG when fatigue clearly cannot be cited as a factor. The impressive Dinesh Chandimal, forced to sit on the bench for the first two Tests, plays one Test in Sydney that only lasts four days and can't make it through a single ODI without also succumbing to the accursed hamstring strain.

Over in the England camp, Steven Finn rarely plays back-to-back games. The Indian fast bowlers regularly miss games through similar injuries while New Zealand have elevated it to an art-form by having to replace injured players who were in turn, replacing other injured comrades. I haven't heard any bad news from Pakistan, West Indies or Bangladesh recently but I daresay their fitness and conditioning regimes mirror all the other countries. So what is the problem? Where is the problem?

The spate of hamstring injuries in particular need to be addressed. How do players who are (supposedly) massaged, warmed up, hydrated and conditioned to achieve peak performance, keep tearing muscles when performing routine tasks (routine for their job descriptions anyway)? None of these guys were injured doing something extraordinary (taking brilliant catches at full stretch like we've seen recently in the Big Bash). None of them were playing in freezing cold conditions (even if they were, isn't that the whole point of the conditioning staff, to warm them up adequately?). All of them sustained injuries in the course of a normal day's work. So what does that say about their own fitness or the system that prepares them to be so ill-equipped to get through a normal day's work? Is there something that we're all overlooking?

Is it the new type of footwear perhaps? Can that be a common link to these similar injuries across the globe? Are the run-ups and bowling creases any harder than they used to be, thereby putting more strain on the muscles? Unlikely. Are modern bowling actions vastly different to those of even five years ago, thereby exposing bowlers to greater stress on their lower backs, hamstrings or intercostals? They're not necessarily bowling a whole lot quicker than in the recent past so we can discount sheer pace as a contributing factor.

Do we need to take a closer look at the pre-season and pre-match conditioning program? What benefits, in terms of measurable outcomes is it producing, despite the extra expense of employing an army of experts? Here are some questions that need to be asked in simplistic terms (in comparison with bowlers of say 10 years ago).

Are bowlers bowling any faster? No. Are they aerobically fitter? Yes (probably). Is this superior aerobic fitness resulting in less injuries? No. Are they being rested (rotated) pre-emptively to prevent the likelihood of injuries? Yes. Is this policy of rotation/rest making any difference to their propensity for subsequent injury? No. Are they bowling more balls (in the nets and in matches)? No (probably).

Are they being massaged and pampered more? Yes. Are they on strictly managed bowling workloads? Yes. Are they eating and drinking nutritionally balanced meals under strict supervision? Yes. Are they warming up for at least twenty minutes before the start of each day's play? Yes. Are they warming down under strict supervision after play? Yes. Are they flying business class on long-haul flights? Yes. Are they sleeping in single rooms to ensure better sleep patterns? Yes. Are they wearing compression garments, at training, when travelling and in competition? Yes. Are they getting injured more often and playing less cricket as a result of all this special attention? YES!!!

Perhaps that last question can be re-phrased. Are bowlers now not being allowed to play (by management or by their own admission) when they complain of minor injuries or niggles that would otherwise have been ignored in times gone by? Probably, yes. Is this policy of caution resulting in a better outcome for future injury prevention? Clearly, no.

Final searching question: are they training with more intensity, bowling long spells at full speed in the nets? Answer: don't know for sure but I suspect this is highly unlikely. I've rarely seen this in the last few years, despite fairly close observation of training sessions and workloads. What do we need to change in order to make a difference? The current system is clearly not working. Even Blind Freddy (not the Flintoff-type version in a pedalo in the Caribbean) can see this.

If cleverer minds than mine are not asking these questions, they're simply throwing good money after bad. I mean, how do the conditioning staff explain why Ben Hilfenhaus got injured in Hobart after being rested in Perth? How do they explain why Starc gets injured after bowling just six overs in an ODI after being deliberately rested in Melbourne (in order to prevent exactly this sort of injury)? If they have no credible explanation, why not just let the players take the field when they don't actually have an injury and withdraw them when/if they physically get injured? What have they got to lose? Philander, Hilfenhaus and Starc have just proved that the "pre-emptive resting theory" is no more effective than allowing them to keep playing and keeping the body loose and supple.

The number of recent 'victims' is staggering. In the last two months alone, I can think of James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Jacques Kallis, Michael Clarke, the Kiwi lads and Ben Rohrer to name but a few of the cricketers who have had soft-tissue strains (other than the names already mentioned).

If modern sports science cannot provide answers (and outcomes) that can improve the current system, perhaps we should be looking to alternative therapies like yoga or meditation or Chinese medicine? Peter Siddle is as tough as teak and is now a vegetarian. Perhaps a radical alternative might be to let these modern cricketers start taking control of their own destinies. Allow them the freedom (and responsibility) to prepare themselves for 'employment' in whatever way they choose and then hold them accountable for their own future employment prospects. Dispense with the trappings of the central contracting system and simply pay them handsomely for turning up for work fit and ready to perform. Controversial and 'never-to-be-adopted' my suggestion may be but worth the hypothetical question for the sake of friendly debate. It can't produce worse outcomes than the current system where cricketers who are rested when they are fit in order to prevent injuries, then get injured the very next game. If it's broke (or strained/pulled/dislocated/sore), fix it!

PS - latest injury update from Adelaide…Mitchell Johnson ruled out with minor injury. Clearly nine overs at the MCG and no batting was enough to see him off.

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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Keywords: Burnout

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Posted by DMcK on (January 16, 2013, 1:43 GMT)

The problem is too much of the wrong type of cricket. Test cricketers nowadays tend to play only test matches and one day matches, and low-intensity non-first class "warm-up" matches, and they play year round. How on earth can you prepare your mind and body for a 5 day test match by playing only non-first class and one day cricket? No wonder they break down! In the old days it is true that they might have played "only" 5-10 test matches per year (25-50 days of cricket), but they also played a first class season of 5-10 three day to four day first-class matches, or if they were playing in England they played 20 or more three day games of first class cricket. Add it up: 25-50 days of test cricket plus 15-60 days or more of first class cricket, plus some one day competitions but nowhere near the amount of one day cricket played today, PLUS a clearly defined off season to rest and recover, equals better, more specific preparation for test cricket, and less injuries.

Posted by Adam on (January 15, 2013, 8:43 GMT)

Sorry Michael, this article is far too smug and offers very little to the debate.

for example, this sort of statement is patently ridiculous...

"Is this policy of caution resulting in a better outcome for future injury prevention? Clearly, no.", not 'clearly' at all

you can't measure 'prevented' injuries so it makes it impossible to refute your type of criticism...please note that doesn't make your argument valid, just circular

what you CAN do is measure and learn from the serious injuries that ignoring the warnings can lead to

for example, James Pattinson was selected in Sydney Test 12 months ago and ended up with stress fractures and a long time out of the game...would you prefer the selectors didn't learn from that experience?

at least Cricket Australia have an evidence base for their views...all you have is a bunch of populist, jingoist and entirely subjective hyperbole

not impressed, extraordinarily ordinary work...


Posted by Deepak Sholapurkar on (January 15, 2013, 2:53 GMT)

we may see players are becoming unfit to play as there muscles are stiff by resting too much :).

Posted by Andrew on (January 14, 2013, 23:22 GMT)

My theory: That it's the fitness work causing the breakdowns. You have these guys working on "core strength" (the latest buzzword). But humans aren't designed to have the core of a 500lb gorilla. Strengthen the core, and that just overstresses the hamstring, or the ribcage.

In the old days, they bowled. Their legs, stomach, back, ribs and shoulder all strengthened at about a proportionate rate over their lives and was balanced. Something occasionally bloke, but they weren't explicitly using one body part to break another one.

Posted by Ash on (January 14, 2013, 21:59 GMT)

Your premise appears to be that current fast bowlers are more injury prone than their predecessors, yet you provide no supporting evidence and merely answer some loaded questions with equally loaded answers. The truth surely is that the human body is poorly adapted to repeatedly propelling a cricket ball at 90mph and, of the few who are able to do so, even fewer are able to avoid injury.

Posted by Tony Knight on (January 14, 2013, 15:41 GMT)

Perhaps someone should study Dale Steyn

Posted by Felix on (January 14, 2013, 14:29 GMT)

Someone mentioned that cricketers long ago got less injuries, that's true, but how much cricket was played in those days. some countries played 10 test matches Max per year, but the average was 5 and only 5 countries played test cricket. there was no one day international cricket until the middle 70s, and no 20/20 cricket. One day cricket was play before of after a Test series and the maximum amount of games were 3. The record would show that cricketers of that era, career lasted about 15/20 years but they played about 50 or 80 test matches. at present a top cricketer with a career of 15 years would play over 125 Test matches plus lots of one day and 20/20 cricket, so how can one compare the fitness of cricketers THEN and NOW. It's simple, at present there is too much cricket, that's why players are always injured, long ago it was mostly bowlers that were injured, now it all players. it has nothing to do with training. anything that is abused will breakdown.

Posted by WheresTheEmpire on (January 14, 2013, 13:01 GMT)

Michael, at least you have found that shouting yourself hoarse does not solve this injury problem.

Simplistic solutions rarely do when it comes to problems with sophisticated machines or organisms, like the human body. I know there is an understandable nostalgia for simpler times, but introducing the pay structure that was around when Lillee & Thommo were playing just a fraction of today's cricket & just one format, will not work either.

I do not believe that impatience or the use of emotive words such as "rotation" changes anything either.

It is, however, helpful to ask questions (as in the Michael's article) & I would also ask whether lack of adequate preparation for a particular format also causes injury. The search for real solutions should continue.

The selectors' stated aim was to create a squad of fast bowlers to handle the realities of today's cricket & I think they have succeeded. I think a lot of Aussies are yet to wake up to the considerable advantages of this.

Posted by Ali Shah on (January 14, 2013, 10:18 GMT)

great article Michael. I suppose there is something called cricket fit. Just like each sport requires different types of training so probably does fast bowling. It is probably about conditioning your body to that kind of workload which is to bowl long spells in the nets and reproduce it in the games

Posted by dr.ahad khan on (January 14, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

I am very confident that the Real Culprit is WEIGHT-TRAINING. Criketers in the Past never did this- ask Gary Sobers / Alan Davidson / Wesley Hall / Charlie Griffiths / Andy Roberts / Malcolm Marshal - Cricketers are not Rugby Players - they require a lithe & flexible body & NOT Muscle Mass. Just simple Jogging / Skipping Rope / Swimming is all they need. To hit a Six, one does not need Muscle Mass - Azharuddin, a lithe & flexible Cricketer, hit a Six in Auckland, out of the Stadium & into the Car Park ! Azharuddin was an agile & excellent Fielder. CEASE WEIGHT - TRAININGS & go for Aerobic Non-Weight-bearing Exercises & stop cotton-wooling Cricketers. Dr. Ahad Khan

Posted by AnasAbbas on (January 14, 2013, 9:04 GMT)

Well you didn't talk about Pakistan Fast Bowlers.Perhaps they are the one who looks more consistent then the others at present.Umar Gul hardly misses an International match.Junaid Khan who is opted for test cricket and after India series he will be permanent in Test and ODI format. Also there is another Fast bowler in process, he may be in action soon in South Africa.

Posted by davent on (January 14, 2013, 7:49 GMT)

Consider this. A young bowle decides at the age of 12 that he is Brett Lee, every spare minute is spent bowling at a box,bin whatever until he is called in for tea by mum. He eventually starts playing club cricket on weekends, and after school with his mates. He does this until he is 18. One day someone sees potential, and decides to coach him. He has built and conditioned his muscles as a child and is very strong. All of a sudden, some boffin tells him his action is all wrong, and try to change some things. He starts to develop muscles and tendons at the age of 18, and the ones that are already strong conflict with the new weaker ones,, resulting in injuries. Players are being OVER coached and trained in artificial environments today by experts in everything other than fast bowles. Fast bowles need endurance training, running, chin ups and long spells in the nets, not hours in the gym, and scientists changing the natural way they move.

Posted by Aditya Pidaparthy on (January 14, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

I think the distinction the author makes between aerobic fitness and cricket match fitness is important. Cricket is somewhat different from other sports in that it requires both agility, flexibility and endurance to play five days. A body builder would not be able to play cricket very well. Also weight training, which may increase muscle strength, but can also create heavier denser and stiffer muscles resultiung in a loss of flexibility, the kind required to bowl 25 overs a day. Of courses shoes might be an issue, but the biomechanics of modern shoes is a whole other topic of discussion.

I feel the best way to stay cricket match fit is to play cricket, lots of cricket and lesser training in gyms. Often many of the exercise regimes may be better suited for other sports like Aussie Rules of Football(Soccer) which are more running games focussing on the lower body with minimal work done by upper body unlike cricket.

Posted by Felix on (January 14, 2013, 6:18 GMT)

The answer is simple, "GREED" cricket is no longer sports, its now a BUSINESS.The major injury problem stated recently with the introduction of 20/20 cricket. Present day cricketers are not getting proper REST, that's because of the amount MONEY that is involved. Cricketers are getting paid well at present and are playing with minor injures which turn into major injuries" too much of one thing is good for nothing" Cricket used to be a seasonal thing, now its from January to December so what do people expect. what other sport do players travel all over the world year round? is there any other sport where a game is 5 consecutive days? cricket is a strenuous game, especially for fast bowlers. Do cricketers get to spend quality time with family,and still get proper training when they are at home? NO!

Posted by sallu78 on (January 14, 2013, 5:31 GMT)

they should start eating biryani's :)

Posted by MS Hussain on (January 14, 2013, 5:04 GMT)

If a bowler like Waqar, Shoaib or Thomson gets injured / have stress fracture or some thing similar its understandable. But how an Indian non- spinning bowler (i can't call them fast)get injured bowling at around 125 k.m. spead (good 7 to 8 km slower then Afridi's quicker one)with all the facilities and support staff they have amaizes me.

Posted by Ian on (January 14, 2013, 4:31 GMT)

The problem as I see it is one of plenty. Years ago, cricket was still a game and people played for their passion. Now it is a bit doubtful especially with the Indian multi millionaires. If tehy were so worried about breaking down, they should be giving up the IPL which is very strenuous especially with all the travel. But then we are talking about cricketers, not soldiers. So they are free to pick and choose the games they want to play. Only to ensure they dont break down and are out of the game for a year or so. I wonder which of these players bowl flat out at full capacity and effort. Batting seems simpler but requires a different type of stamina.

Posted by Tamer Simsek on (January 14, 2013, 3:59 GMT)

You raise some important questions, but unfortunately you always seem to do it in an antagonistic manner towards sports science staff (SSS) and in a manner that suggests the SSS aren't constantly asking the same questions. Every year stringent scientific research is done throughout the world about the effects of conditioning, loading, training, recovery. The results of this research are then used by sporting teams of all sports from around the world. Thankfully cricket has now adopted this same process. Clearly it hasn't helped at present, but we are more likely to get to the right destination by following this process, rather than biased unproven hypotheses? Its proving a little more difficult to adopt this process for cricket as it is a unique sport..... these days there is no offseason and preseason. Its just inseason all year round. Also no defined match day on saturday and rest of the week to get body right, its just play, fly play train play.

Posted by RK_Prime on (January 14, 2013, 3:39 GMT)

Makes you appreciate Kapil Dev who never missed a test match over his long career due to injury! And while not express he wasn't a trundler by any means. Moreover he was the only quickie India had. Quick bowling is not easy. Even the greatest have had times on the sidelines -- Imran, McGrath, Waqar. I just think today everything is over analyzed. You let the guys play. You monitor them. If there is a niggle it will show up; either via drop in pace or inability to get through overs at reasonable pace. Pull them out and then do the analysis. Not this molly coddling every 2 matches!

Posted by Doug on (January 14, 2013, 3:37 GMT)

The fitness fiasco is self-inflicted and readily treatable. Players need to be the ones to take responsibility for their own health and match fitness. They need to push themselves hard in training and earn their spots on demonstrated form. And if they don't deliver whether due to poor form or injury, they get dropped. That's how 'Test' cricket got to be the 'best' cricket. And every time these basic rules are ignored, elite cricket takes a hit and more fans lose interest. It's so simple and obvious. Only an expert could fail to see it.....

Posted by Raghavan.N on (January 14, 2013, 3:16 GMT)

Kapil Dev played 131 of India's 132 tests between 1978 to 1994,and was never injured.Despite suffering severe injuries,Dennis Lillie,Craig McDermott,Jason Gillespie,Brett Lee et al played 70-odd games each tasting varying degrees of success.Imran Khan(shin),Alan Donald(groin),Wasim Akram(knee) and Waqar Younis(back) had successful careers.Among other fast bowlers,Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock were never injured,while McGrath suffered just one freak injury in his whole career,only taking breaks to care for his wife.Modern fast bowlers except the likes of Steyn and Morkel are simply brittle.

Posted by ash on (January 14, 2013, 2:52 GMT)

Good article. Australian fans should have boycotted the last game and not gone to it. Resting players is fine, but don't rest the entire team leaving 1 or 2 mainstreem players in the team. Also stop lying to the public regarding injuries and resting. I'd like to see Glen McGrath being told he couldn't play the boxing day test because he bowled 40 overs the last test match. For a non-contact sport there are more injuries than full conduct MMA. Australia has had so many dead rubbers of the last 10 years and has continued to pick their best team. This is where they went wrong. Now we are stuck with a new player every game. Many who are not up to the standard mentally.

Posted by Meety on (January 14, 2013, 1:37 GMT)

@MJeh. IMO, it is close to impossible not to assume that Sport Science in regards cricket has improved, (has in all other pro-sports that I can think of). I think it would be harsh & plain wrong to assume that players are softer than in the past. To me, it comes down to two things, 1) Itinery, & 2) Parameters of best practise. The first one is easy - its really TOO MUCH TWENTY/TWENTY cricket, manifests in pace bowler injuries. The 2nd parameter, is that when a bowler reports a niggle - Sports Science identifies what the root cause is & a player is ruled out. In the past they may have played & battled thru, or they may end up in traction for a year. Cric Oz really needs to put a clamp on 20/20 cricket at all levels in this country. Prime bowling talent should not be playing the BBL or any other foreign league, until they have a proven durability.

Posted by Dan whos sick of the word WORKLOAD on (January 14, 2013, 0:56 GMT)

ALl this talk of players playing more cricket is a total Myth, have a look at players records of old, how many First class games did they play?!! plus onedayers AND club cricket!! yes they travel more but im a little sick of the medical staff being the selectors these days, i think its going a little too far.

Posted by Dave Stephen on (January 14, 2013, 0:55 GMT)

There is clearly something wrong with the fitness training. We never had these problems with our teams in the past and they had inferior equipment and facilities. The biggest problem I see is the fact that so many young Aussie fast bowlers are breaking down despite this best practice fitness management. These guys are soft and pampered, we used to have a few beers after the game not iced baths and hordes of dieticians and other "experts". Get back to basics, make them earn their pay.

Posted by cricket_freak on (January 14, 2013, 0:38 GMT)

i guess this will answer all ur questions:- they r playing a lot more matches dan b4... not just in international cricket but in domestic and league cricket as well... even after missing so many matches because of the "injuries", the total number of matches played or total number of balls thrown by the likes of Starc and Philander in a calendar year would be greater than total matches played or total balls thrown by the bowlers "5 years ago" !!!

Posted by Luke on (January 14, 2013, 0:29 GMT)

Very elementary article lacking depth, understanding, and critical analysis of why the current system is in place. Do you actually understand the theory of why we have a rotation policy? How about balancing your commentary, or at least backing up your own verbiage with some concise factual analysis.

Posted by Josh Dascombe on (January 14, 2013, 0:03 GMT)

Hey mate,

Thought I would offer my two cents again. Without doing some in depth research, I believe that the emphasis on weights and gym work in the teenage (formative) years, could play a large factor in the increasing number of stress related injuries we are seeing in fast bowlers.

Young fast bowlers such as James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins etc. represent a group fast bowlers who went through youth cricket with a large emphasis on Gym and Strength work, in order to accelerate their development. This has resulted in their progress being fasttracked (19 year olds bowling 150km/h), but at the expense of their bodies.

If we compare this with Dale Steyn, who has been relatively injury free over the past few years, his training program has been likened to that of a marathon runner.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this idea.


Posted by Dan on (January 13, 2013, 23:45 GMT)

Mr. Patel, you discuss the likes of Larwood and Tyson playing full Ashes series without breaking down with injury. Tyson was always injury prone and had a far, far shorter career than he might have had his workload been managed. In the 1950s, a first class career of 8 years is tiny, and his 17 Tests over 5 even more so.

On Larwood, here's some quotes from Duncan Hamilton's acclaimed biography: "[Larwood] had to leave the field four times during the first innings" "He was in no fit state to walk, let alone bowl" "Larwood pleaded to be left out of the final Test at Sydney [...] deserved a rest after 'bowling my insides out'. [...] He would have been able to bowl during the 1933 season. He wouldn't have undergone an operation. His playing career wouldn't have been cut short." "He was just about all but spent [...] mentally and physically" "England lost a fast bowler for ever" "He was no more than invalid"

Larwood was hardly a beacon of fitness when overused in 1933. Same goes now.

Posted by Stumpy on (January 13, 2013, 23:45 GMT)

Lots of interesting questions, however a little perspective would be useful.

We cite Dennis Lillee as the role model, able to bowl all day in back to back Tests. Now Dennis is a legend and rightly so, but if he is legendary, how can you expect fringe players to match up to him?

For those of you yearning for the "good old days", think about how the past players didn't have the benefit of modern sport science expertise. You want them to bowl until they break, but basically you're ignoring individual characteristics - some men are just more durable than others. CA wants to keep the most talented men on the pitch, the "survival of the fittest" mentality still results in guys like Shaun Tait and Shane Bond (NZ) being "if only" footnotes

Also, Dennis was done after 70 Tests and 63 ODIs, which in modern times isn't very much at all - that's his entire career. With the modern day player able to rack up the same in about 4 years, what with the number of Tests, ODIs and now T20is

Posted by Nadeem syed on (January 13, 2013, 23:07 GMT)

Very right in your observation mate

Posted by Pete Lee on (January 13, 2013, 22:42 GMT)

Great article. I like how nobody has used the old 'bad luck' as an explanation to injuries, although I'm sure some of the fitness people involved are. The answer is not yoga, chinese medicine or the like. It's not about building 'biceps and abdominals' - & its not about not building them. It's not about a rotation policy and its not about bowling or playing non-stop. It's about getting people involved that have the skill & know-how to assess & put a plan in place that is completely individualised. And that will take some balls & unbiased thinking from those in charge. Would love to see it!

Posted by steve w (NZ) on (January 13, 2013, 22:32 GMT)

Gentlemen...I present Sir Richard Hadlee, for many years, (as Richard Hadlee and one as Sir Richard Hadlee), he bowled all day every day and prepared his own fitness regime, because none was available from NZ Cricket. Similarly Waqar Younis bowled flat out for 2 hours per day, and that was it, and pakistan let him do his thing, he wasn't as injury free as Hadlee, but was pretty good. I also seem to remember a doco where Malcolm Marshall (Dream bowling attack Marshall, Wasim Akran, Hadlee) bowled with a broken arm in plaster, and batted to help win the test. Conclusion- let them do their fitness regimes, don't force them to do team regime, and if they want to play with niggles- let em.

Posted by Muzza on (January 13, 2013, 21:58 GMT)

In the old days, the primary fitness preparation of bowlers was (guess what ?) bowling! Me thinks that all the emphasis on stretching, weights and cross-training actually produces a body like Shane Watson's that isn't actually suited to what it is trained to do - that is bowl.

I am guessing that the proportion of training time actually spent bowling has reduced markedly. There may be a link.

Posted by Tamer Simsek on (January 13, 2013, 21:54 GMT)

You raise some important questions, but unfortunately you always seem to do it in an antagonistic manner towards sports science staff (SSS) and in a manner that suggests the SSS aren't constantly asking the same questions. Every year stringent scientific research is done throughout the world about the effects of conditioning, loading, training, recovery. The results of this research are then used by sporting teams of all sports from around the world. Thankfully cricket has now adopted this same process. Clearly it hasn't helped at present, but we are more likely to get to the right destination by following this process, rather than biased unproven hypotheses? Its proving a little more difficult to adopt this process for cricket as it is a unique sport..... these days there is no offseason and preseason. Its just inseason all year round. Also no defined match day on saturday and rest of the week to get body right, its just play, fly play train play.

Posted by Adyeel on (January 13, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

ICC - Should Step UP and Limit Players to play maximum of 25 International games per year and an ICC event! 40 Games including Domestic games should RULE should be implemented by Cricket Boards.

Posted by hattrick_thug on (January 13, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

Frank Tyson was considered an unfortunate case at the time - it's now the new normal. Perhaps the one big difference between then and now is that it was a sport then, it's a profession now. Sport is something you always wanted to play, a profession is one where you have to show up to perform someone else's bidding. The big change is around where the mind is - Lillees, Ambroses and Walshes wanted to be there bowling, and the ball pried loose by their captain from cold, dead, fingers; the new ones merely want to earn a secure paycheck. If the body's here, and the mind there, it's got to skew something. If your mind is on the next game, it isn't there to protect your body in this game. Pakistan bowlers, however, are a whole other breed - they almost never break down physically - bruised egos and hurt feelings are the most common cause of missed games.

Posted by Kelum on (January 13, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

My view is present day cricket trainers have over engineered everything including fitness training. Cricket is not a complicated game and while talent takes you to places more often than not what creates success is doing the simple things right. Even in training. Waqar Younis said in an interview when they were youngsters their fitness training included lots of running and lots of bowling an the nets. This not only prepares the player for the tough physical workload but also mentally prepares them for performing for longer periods. The lack of this kind of training plus fast bowlers at a very young age playing at the international level without much match mileage is probably what's causing the breakdowns. Probably should add that Dale Steyn & Jimmy Anderson rarely miss matches due to injury.

Posted by Mo on (January 13, 2013, 20:30 GMT)

Its only adequate rest if the recovery is optimised.In fact the topic of overtraining is still a mystery and sports science does not have the answers.Example: Just 3 intense sets of a particular bodypart will deplete muscle glycogen by 70% (OR MORE!) and adequate recovery from that will be required.Now add the net sessions,fitness drills,"soccer warm up sessions",bowling in the middle,batting practise,fielding drills and guess what---INJURY TIME! Steyn,Donald,Ntini,Morkel and Pollock are/were not "big into gym" but worked hard on flexibility and honing their bowling technique.Polly related that he would go to the nets,bowl an over or 2 to feel all was in sync and that was it.The main thing was bowling in the middle-surprise!

Of course sports science has a role to play-fitness,adding a yard of pace,batsmen hitting the ball harder,longer careers,Kallis bowling at 140 (at 38!),etc.However unless tradional methods are not married to scientific,more injuries will surface more often.

Posted by KC on (January 13, 2013, 19:21 GMT)

I believe this recent malaise is a combination of "defensive" doctors and an "aggressive" mindset to report niggles. Even 10 yrs back, most cricketers would shrug off minor pains and aches while such incidents are being actively reported to their huge support staffs these days. The team doctors, in turn, recommend MRI's, CT scans and other sophisticated tests for any issues that the players report. Any small anomaly during these tests leads to a recommendation of resting the player so that the doctors and physios can be absolved of any blame in case the player does pick up an injury. On the flip side, the players need to "man-up" some by playing on through minor niggles and also play more cricket outside of training in gyms and in highly regulated environments.

Posted by Owen Williams on (January 13, 2013, 19:20 GMT)

Preparation should be more of bowling in the nets in match simulating conditions and less of gym work.

Posted by Owen Williams on (January 13, 2013, 18:48 GMT)

The training should simulate the action of the bowling action in actual play. Prepping other non bowling action muscles,toning the bowling action muscles in wrong direction will create muscle busting tension in match conditions which will lead to injuries. The training should maintain the equilibrium of the players natural body type and bowling action. Maintaining natural body balance while achieving endurance through bowling simulation must be the basic approach to training and conditioning.

Posted by big mo on (January 13, 2013, 18:05 GMT)

Wow, this was a great article! Honestly, as armchair critics, we tend to miss the big picture and miss such glaring patterns. After reading this article, I remember that I've read about each and everyone of these injury reports. But I never thought about it like this! This is madness. And here I was thinking that Australia was the only team that was going overboard with their protectiveness, it's apparently an epidemic! ICC really should do something about all this, and see if there's maybe a concrete reason as to why it's happening so much these days, other than the same "busy schedule" excuses. I mean - these guys are supposedly playing so much cricket because we the people want to see more, but when half of the "star cricketers" are missing almost half of the time, what are we really accomplishing here?

Posted by ramesh on (January 13, 2013, 16:06 GMT)

Very nice article. Kapil Dev went through an entire career of 15 years, without ever missing a test due to injury. He was also expected to score runs and also the top outfielder in the team. Once he bowled on a swollen knee with the West Indies and got 9 wickets in an innings. The Indian victory in Melbourne in 1981, was achieved with a spinner with a fractured toe, another injured and Kapil Dev with a thigh strain. On the one hand, there is a lot of equally meaningless or meaningful cricket and so players pick and choose. On the other hand, the medical diagnostics have become so thorough, that it is showing up potential injuries, that no one knew before. Players pull out preemptively, but missing that many matches, makes them ineffective when they return! Like a management relying on too many consultants; The process may not improve, but consultants keep making money!

Posted by Adrian on (January 13, 2013, 15:17 GMT)

Michael makes some good points, most significantly that the current situation is unsatisfactory. He has also identified the spate of soft tissue injuries as being a key concern. However, his solutions do not even address the problem. Scrapping the central contract system is a suggestion completely lacking in merit and would only serve to force fringe players out of the game.

Furthermore, harking back to a golden era when no fast bowler was injured is frankly ludicrous. Larwood took a season to recover from a fractured foot. The indestructible Dennis Lillee missed two seasons with stress fractures. Imran Khan missed two years with stress fractures. Players got injured as frequently, if not more frequently than in the past.

What is needed is an evidence based approach and considered solutions. Constant use of anecdote and flippant suggestions are not going to get more players on the park.

Posted by Shoji on (January 13, 2013, 15:16 GMT)

I remember reading recent comments by Waqar Younis saying that in his time athletes would bowl themselves to fitness. Gym was abhorred because it only gave you a good looking physique and not functional strength. The best way to condition is to run and to swim.

Posted by Nick on (January 13, 2013, 14:29 GMT)

Jimmy Anderson seems to be doing ok, considering he bowled way more overs than anybody else in 2012. He's the wrong side of 30 as well. Surely Australia would've banned him from half a dozen test matches by now. I have a radical idea, why not let them bowl themselves fit.

Posted by Bhaskar on (January 13, 2013, 14:17 GMT)

Micheal, you are spot-on. Peter Siddle changed to Vegetarian for good & we are seeing the results. It is time all bowlers change to Veg diet & play more matches for their team. If you see the Aus-SL series also Peter Siddle was the most highest wicket taker, he has been the best bowler by far. The same issue of frequent changing of fast bowlers in NZ, Aus, Ind, Saf, Pak & Eng have been mentioned in my posts too. Australia being the biggest culprits here, they are ruining a bowler's career for nothing. At this rate it looks impossible for any fast bowler to even equal Javagal Srinath's meagre tally of 250 odd off Test wickets, with so many quality bowlers like Pattinson, Cummins & like they all should be played most of the time. Only Peter Siddle seems to be a permanent fast bowler for the Australian Test team. Rotation policy is flawed right from Steve Waugh's days, earlier it was limited to batsmen in ODIs, nowadays bowlers for test matches also. The present Aus ODI team is a joke.

Posted by Barnesy on (January 13, 2013, 13:55 GMT)

Two of the main issues I see are: 1) Tests are so close together. In days gone by a 5 tests series was spread over 3-4 months. This allowed time to recover from niggles and lots of practice in between. Now we have an entire series in 6 weeks. Any niggle will simply get worse, there will be little time to recover and strengthen up prior to the next test. 2) In between test series there are one dayers etc. Every international game requires a higher intensity than Sheffield Shield or practice. This increase in percentage of high intensity workload results in soft tissue and stress injuries.

Posted by Raj Iyer on (January 13, 2013, 12:45 GMT)

Nice article Foxy-I have been following with interest allur posts on this topic over quite some time. I feel one of the factors contributing to bowler injury is that due to the administrators greed in seeing more runs scored-have made the grounds more sand based, sand under the toplayer of grass, this has less 'give' whilst the bowler/fielders are running and this gets amplified for a quickie in his delivery stride. That apart, i feel the modern player feels that the best way to market himself in the numerous cockamamie T20 leages and thereby to maximize advertisement revenues is by having a sculpted body and a rockstar persona-this leads to them trying for a more muscular body and hence more gym work in trying to achieve theperfect 'cuts'. Hence heavier muscles are achieved as opposed to a sinewy body and hece more this body is not primed to send down long be honest-the past gr8's - Hadlee, kapil, lillee, McGrath were not muscular but still played for long

Posted by Raj Iyer on (January 13, 2013, 12:44 GMT)

Nice article Foxy-I have been following with interest allur posts on this topic over quite some time. I feel one of the factors contributing to bowler injury is that due to the administrators greed in seeing more runs scored-have made the grounds more sand based, sand under the toplayer of grass, this has less 'give' whilst the bowler/fielders are running and this gets amplified for a quickie in his delivery stride. That apart, i feel the modern player feels that the best way to market himself in the numerous cockamamie T20 leages and thereby to maximize advertisement revenues is by having a sculpted body and a rockstar persona-this leads to them trying for a more muscular body and hence more gym work in trying to achieve theperfect 'cuts'. Hence heavier muscles are achieved as opposed to a sinewy body and hece more this body is not primed to send down long be honest-the past gr8's - Hadlee, kapil, lillee, McGrath were not muscular but still played for long

Posted by Sigismund on (January 13, 2013, 12:36 GMT)

It has become ridiculous, and the charlatans continue to make a mint out of their 'advice'. It's very simple: just get on with it and bowl. Do the modern support staff really think that bowlers in past ages didn't feel niggles, soreness and stiffness? They did most of the time - it would be more strange if they bowled all day and didn't. There are two key sources of the problem: 1) Over-diagnosis using excessively fancy scans, and the psychological consequences: the experts tell them that sore spot is a grade x muscle tear, then they feel 'injured' and the mind gets to work aggravating the problem, and a real injury becomes manifest. 2) Naive and arrogant conditioning programs: however clever they think their models for targeted training and strengthening are, they are always going to be a gross simplification - and in fact harmful. The only training for the precise strength and suppleness that any particular bowler needs for their action is bowling; all else just upsets the balance.

Posted by Dan on (January 13, 2013, 12:24 GMT)

This entire line of thought is really starting to frustrate me.

Look at the respective ages of bowlers in world cricket. Cummins, Pattinson, Southee, Starc, Hazelwood .etc are all young; their bodies are still developing at age 20. It isn't unusual for young quicks, it's just that there's now more ~20 year old kids bowling fast at the highest level. At 20 Craig McDermott and Jason Gillespie missed more cricket than they played, and Brett Lee spent most of his career battling to stay off the physio's bench.

If you look at the guys who were bowling 10 years ago (to use your example), we had the matured bodies of Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock (to name but two), and they were hardly pushing 150km/h each ball. They were supplemented by guys like Michael Kasprowicz and Andy Bichel in terms of Australians - guys who showed up in their mid-20s, with FC overs under their belts.

These posts are infuriatingly filled with misinformation and rose-tinted hindsight. This isn't anything new.

Posted by Blakey on (January 13, 2013, 12:07 GMT)

There is still a 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' mentallity to this story. I beleive the primary focus of our selectors at the moment is to create a troop of fast bowlers who can readily come into the team and be expected to perform immediately. Since we lost the ashes in england in 2005, we have not had adequate back-up bowlers to pick-up the slack when injuries occurred. Particulary to cover our main strike bowlers. Brett Lee has been making negative comments but admits that he can't pick our best 12 players. If the 'experts' can't nominate similar palyers in their 12s maybe the selectors are doing a good job in re-building our position in world cricket. This has to be a fairly slow process but as soon as a 'weakness' is identified (rotation policy) people want to query its value. We now have a squad of test class bowlers and need to build the batsmen. This is why the selectors were ruthless and left Mike Hussey out of the team.

Posted by shoaib on (January 13, 2013, 11:41 GMT)

In a recent interview, Wasim Akram said, that fast bowlers need to spend less time in the gym and working out and more time bowling (in the nets) and running

Posted by Doc SL on (January 13, 2013, 11:27 GMT)

I think the dietary supplements these athletes might be taking could be a reason for these injuries. For example, most supplements that claim to build muscle contain creatine, which is known to increase muscle injuries.

Posted by warren on (January 13, 2013, 11:25 GMT)

The medical profession is a joke and is expert only in making work for itself. On a sidenote, i believe that most of the injuries were worrying about and are frustrated with are with Australias youngsters. The problem is that these chaps arent bowling within themselves - theyre bowling flat out all the time. Gone are the days when youngsters are taught line and length first - you can bowl faster when youre older - and tbh there bodies just cant handle the stress theyre going through to get something out of lifeless pitches. Balanced pitches need to be restored - sensible coaching and patience next. And get them running - road running - plenty of it - ie dont turn up for practice if you havent done your 5 to 10 kms. A neat idea i think would be to get them doing it in packs to build camaraderie amongst each other. And get them playing SS again. Get them physically and mentally tough and away from the 'health professionals' - Currently the most successful department of Oz cricket.

Posted by kitkatz on (January 13, 2013, 11:18 GMT)

Could it have something to do with all the other work they have to do in the field. The one difference you have not mentioned is all the throwing themselves around the field and training for it which they did not do more than 10 years ago. Remember the fast bowlers loping around the field stopping balls with their boots...

Posted by Andrew on (January 13, 2013, 10:43 GMT)

Yes, yes and yes. But don't ask these questions of James Sutherland. He'll just get grumpy. Maybe rotation "creates rivarly". His "creating rivalry" comment about Warne's bad behaviour shows that the bloke can't cope with his role.

Posted by Harlequin on (January 13, 2013, 10:23 GMT)

Brilliant article, the last paragraph about moving back to traditional techniques is one I would definitely support. But unfortunately, as you said, it will never be adopted. The reason being that it would be viewed as regression in a world where everything has to be seen to be moving forward. Another reason would be that the people with the power to make a decision to move away from modern 'obsessive-attention-to-detail' conditioning would be the ones whose jobs would be on the line if they did. There are many analogies in the business world of HSE and personel departments destroying work-place efficiency by introducing measures to improve tiny details in an attempt to justify their jobs.

It wasn't broke before, they tried to fix it. Now it's broke, they won't fix it.

Posted by Cavanoughclaire on (January 13, 2013, 9:33 GMT)

Well said Michael. We know players today play more cricket than 10 years ago but certain current players appear to play a lot of Twenty/20 and do not get injured or do they and we never hear. Sure I understand there is less intensity than say ODI or a test match.

Do the women cricketers sustain the same level of injuries? What happened to the philosophy of playing through your injury and not telling anyone and still performing. I think it is called guts and determination and not all this molly coddling by support staff who I think are great but truly it is not keeping players on the park but rather the opposite.

Posted by Dr Hussain on (January 13, 2013, 9:33 GMT)

I am not saying a bowler should be burnt out but they should be used to bowling long spells regularly if they want to have long test careers. You obviously need a balance. I am not fast bowlers wont get injured because they are bound to but I think current sports science strategies are over doing the load management issues. I think experience of actually playing cricket and bowling long spells is crucial and if you ask the opinions of people like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis ( fairly long careers by any stretch of the imagination)then you will the see the difference in approach.

Posted by Lourens Grobbelaar on (January 13, 2013, 9:29 GMT)

Personaly I think some of it also has to do with the modern professional era treating athletes like vehicles that need to be fine tuned to its highest capablity. It might enhance performance, but also brings you closer to the verge between being fit and overfit, where muscles is strained up to maximum for performance, like a sprint athlete also (ask Usain Bolt). That is why F1 motorcars don't make it on the road. The grittier the athlete the better the endurance. But that's jut my opnion.

Posted by Dr Hussain on (January 13, 2013, 9:27 GMT)

Great article Michael. It was high time spmeone noticed the injury pattern. I am a doctor myself with sports med background and having worked with PCB for one year, I can give you some insight on why you haven't heard anything bad from Pakistan. The concept of managing fast bowlers is exactly opposite in Pakistan. When Australian scientists are coming out and saying that young fast bowlers should only ball a certain amount of overs per year, the Pakistani counter parts are doing exactly the opposite. They are making young bowlers ball more and more. Initially I didn't see much sense in it but I am beginning to see their the logic. In a layman's term, if you are a weight lifter will you rest your muscles for a long time or will you go to gym and lift weights every day. If not at full tilt, fast bowlers in Pakistan are made to ball regularly at say 80%. Barring Shoiab Akhtar ( which is a different case all together), Gul, Sami and even young Amir for 2 years and now junaid are examples

Posted by Maws on (January 13, 2013, 9:12 GMT)

Michael Have to agree with you. If you look at any of the overseas bowlers playing County Cricket in the 80's, they regularly bowled more than 800 overs. Somehow they generally managed to avoid soft tissue injuries.

How do they explain this???

Posted by Barry on (January 13, 2013, 9:04 GMT)

Is Usman dropped, rotated, rested, niggled, or dead? He had one game ...Is that it for him???

Posted by Bayman on (January 13, 2013, 8:55 GMT)

My thoughts exactly - and they've been my thoughts for some time. When is someone in authority going to put some heat on the fitness gurus to explain why, when their job is to get players on the park and keep them there, that it now seems compulsory for every match to produce yet another injury. These gurus have built their empires - now let's see them justify the effort and the expense.

Posted by richard on (January 13, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

I'm sure the recent spate of injuries is an unintended side effect from a new fitness or nutrition regimen that has become in vogue for professional cricketers. Perhaps the easiest and simplest solution is to return to what they were doing a few years ago?

Posted by Chickenwire on (January 13, 2013, 7:52 GMT)

Hi, interesting post. You mentioned a couple of points I'm not sure you explored in enough depth. First - those amazing skills in the field, you see quicks throwing themselves around to save a run hither and thither which, to be frank, you'd have been hard-pressed seeing 15-25 years ago. This must put strain on bodies. Second, the conditioning of quick bowlers now must be putting muscle-mass where before you'd had none. Perhaps we're too clever now in designing the shape of our quicks - remember in the olden days where you'd have a Willis shape or a Trueman shape fast-man; now they all look like Adonis, or at the very least Charles Atlas! It brings me in mind of what Troy Cooley did with James Anderson, who was re-modelled to try and limit his chances of injury; the upshot of it all was to reduce his effectiveness to the point of ridiculousness. He goes back to his well-grooved, old action and becomes one of the world's best. Fast bowling is unnatural, perhaps grooving is the answer

Posted by QB on (January 13, 2013, 7:45 GMT)

Perhaps the overload of "conditioning" and not enough cricket is the culprit. There is such a thing as being cricket fit. Fast bowlers of yore, across countries, like Dennis Lillee, Bob Willis, Andy Roberts, etc bowled on and on until their captains literally had to pry the ball away from their hands. Whereas these days bowlers hardly ever bowl long spells at full clip in matches, never mind in the nets. Bulging biceps and six-pack abdomens might look impressive, but probably have little to do with the task of toiling long hours on the cricket field. I recall Gavaskar's comment along similar lines during a Chennai test (IND vs AUS) when a well-rounded Sehwag scored 150 in sapping heat and humidity without any apparent discomfort, whereas a seemingly fitter Kaif broke down with cramps.

Posted by David Davies on (January 13, 2013, 6:39 GMT)

These top sportsmen and supreme athletes simply don't do enough walking - vigorous and normal - as part of their daily lives.

Posted by N J Patel on (January 13, 2013, 6:04 GMT)

Larwood and Tyson bowled throughout an Ashes series of five Tests in Australia, plus several State matches, without missing a single session through injury - Larwood missed only the very last part of Australia's last innings with a fractured left toe, not a muscle injury. Their diet was reportedly beef steaks and beer. Should not present day "fast" bowlers revert to that?

Posted by Faiz Hassan on (January 13, 2013, 5:40 GMT)

I think i dont really agree to the notion about Pakistan though, likes of Junaid Khan and Umar Gul are part of all three formats but except for some minor niggles here and there, they have always been on the field, these guys have played in counties and leagues, and have played in test matches as well. I think the key is to not over pamper and let them bowl. Umar Gul can be the best case study for the fast bowler, in initial years he used to broke down, but i think his body is now accustomed to the crazy rigors of fast bowling.

Posted by Sifter on (January 13, 2013, 5:28 GMT)

Michael, you ask a lot of questions and have even provided some answers. Many of the questions are good, but you undermine your article my being so one-sided in your view. I have learned nothing.

The one thing I will add is my own theory. Every player is different, and as a result I'm not sure you can subscribe a universal 'must rest after x games' for every player in your squad. Perhaps we should just keep picking players until they get injured, then study what workload pattern might have made them get injured and how their form was during that time. eg. some players might relish a consistent workload, others might need constant refreshing. It would be kind of like managing race horses.

And just to add, I read this morning about NZ being out for 26. It mentions that Frank Tyson only played 9 more Tests after match, despite his great talent and being only 25 at the time. That debunks the idea that only modern players are being injured, we just scrutinise the modern game.

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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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