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News

Matt Fisher brings the bulk in bid for England second coming

Yorkshire and England fast bowler on recovering from stress fracture with gym and technical work

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
22-Jan-2023
Matt Fisher took a wicket with his second ball in Test cricket  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

Matt Fisher took a wicket with his second ball in Test cricket  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

It's coming up to a year since Matt Fisher's Test debut against West Indies in Barbados, and in so many ways that one-off appearance epitomises the promise and frustration that has accompanied his career ever since his Yorkshire debut, as a 17-year old, eight years ago.
Fisher showcased his wicket-taking menace by dismissing John Campbell with his second ball in Tests, but on a flat Bridgetown deck it would be his only breakthrough in 27 overs of hard yakka. And before he'd had a chance to extend his opportunity into the English summer, he had succumbed - like so many of his fast-bowling peers - to a stress fracture.
Add it to the list, you might say, Fisher's career to date has been a litany of setbacks, from hamstring and side strains to broken thumbs and shoulder dislocations. And yet, as he gears up for this week's England Lions tour to Sri Lanka, he's determined not to get downcast at his misfortune, and instead is itching to showcase the work that has gone into the past year's rehab.
"There were a couple of days of being down and really upset, but I was very quick to being back to 'what can we do?', 'how can we sort it out?' How can I be better next time so that it doesn't happen?" he says. "If you improve every single part of your game then hopefully you are giving yourself the best chance to not get injured. I have just tried to do that."
At the age of 25, time is still on Fisher's side if he wants to establish his Test credentials, but it's going to be a differently-shaped cricketer who re-emerges in an England shirt in the coming weeks. Specifically, he has bulked out, adding 5kg of muscle to a previously willowy frame, with a view to offering a more robust product for the selectors to contemplate in the 2023 season.
"Literally, looking in a mirror I just thought, I don't look as robust as some players I've seen this winter and maybe that's something to look at," Fisher says. "I basically said to our S&C [strength and conditioning coach], 'I want you to make me look like an Australian fast bowler', because they all seem to look solid. Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, they all look pretty strong."
"I ate loads that first three months," he adds. "It wasn't Maccies [McDonald's] and stuff like that, but it was just to get so much in where you can't eat any more, so you can build the muscle, and then once you start playing and bowling again then it drops off, which it did.
"Sometimes in our sport we think too much about skin folds, a lot of lads get anxiety about being slim enough. But I wasn't bothered about what my skinnies were at that point, my goal was to put muscle on, and that is the best way to put some weight and muscle on. I was doing loads of training at the time as well so I wasn't getting really fat.
"All throughout the summer, the coaches at Yorkshire and some of the players were like 'bloody hell, you look massive'. Around my chest I am a bit bigger and then my legs are bigger."
The sturdier frame is just one element of Fisher's bid for fulfilment. He's also had a technical tinker during his downtime, in a bid to reduce the inevitable strains on his body that the act of fast bowling entails.
"I've tried to be a bit straighter with my back-foot contact," he says. "My back foot was getting into a side-on position, which is fine, but my feet were crossing over a little bit. Now they come down in a straight line and my back foot is pointing more towards fine leg rather than deep midwicket.
"So when that lands it is a lot straighter, so I flex from my hip and forwards, over both hips rather than a side bend over to one side of my hip, and you start falling over in your action and it takes a lot of strain on to the left side of your back, which is where I got my stress fracture. It is basically trying to be a lot straighter with my feet and then hopefully that makes you straighter and more over the top of the ball when you release it.
"That is just me looking at my own action and thinking obviously my side flexion is not very good and how can I get it more straight. That was just me looking at my action and working on it with Kabir [Ali] and Gibbo [Otis Gibson] at Yorkshire."
In terms of role models, Fisher has a fair few - including Darren Gough, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn - but the current quick who gives him the most to emulate, he says, is South Africa's quickest bowler, Anrich Nortje.
"In the first two weeks after my injury, I looked at so many different actions of some of the best bowlers to have ever bowled," he says. "I don't want mine to look like this person because he's the quickest or he's rapid, but I want mine to look more like Nortje. It's technically very good, but it's his back-foot contact that I've tried to model myself on, because I thought that's what I want it to look like."
As for James Anderson - the man whose place Fisher took for that tour of the Caribbean, but who bounced back in the summer to return to the top of his game even after his 40th birthday - Fisher acknowledges that the methods that have proven so durable in Anderson's matchless career are perhaps not the ones for him to emulate.
"I love Jimmy and love watching him bowl, but I was so obsessed about getting side-on to be able to swing it out a bit more, that's where my feet cross-over came from. It was actually me trying to model myself too much on Jimmy that got me in a worse position.
"Looking back, I used to swing it without getting side-on, it was more from my wrist than anything else. That's stuff that I've learnt so hopefully, if anything, it's made me a lot more aware of my action technically, which I think is a positive. It's better to learn that when you are still quite young."
For all of the positives that Fisher has taken from his rehabilitation, the frustrations of 2022 remain - not least that he was powerless to prevent Yorkshire's relegation from the top flight of the Championship, following Warwickshire's thrilling final-day escape. He also had to look on from afar as England's Test standards soared under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, but that experience served as a reminder of how much he wants the chance to build on the promise of his England debut.
"'You just want to be a part of it because it looks like so much fun," Fisher says, having interacted with the Test squad while part of the England Lions training camp in Abu Dhabi before Christmas.
"The UAE tour was really good for us, they want us to play how the England team are playing, but they want us to work with our strengths, Above everything, it's just giving players freedom and the confidence to go and just enjoy it, and try and put pressure back on to the team that you are playing."
There's no telling just yet how prominent Fisher is in the selectors' thoughts, although he admits there had been some talk about him standing in for Mark Wood in Pakistan last winter, until it was decided his rehab wasn't quite far enough advanced. Since then, of course, Jamie Overton - another debutant in 2022 - has suffered his own stress fracture, but the returns of Olly Stone, Jofra Archer and Saqib Mahmood hint at a promising pool of quick options going into the Ashes summer.
"I can't really control where I am in the pecking order, so for me it's just about bowling well and I know how fast it can happen," Fisher says, "It happened last winter, so I am just hoping for that again at some point.
"There's been indoor sessions where I am visualising bowling at David Warner, so it's definitely in my mind. But in terms of it being a goal of mine this summer, it's not like on my wall or anything. If that happens, it happens. For me, it's just bowling well for Yorkshire and then hopefully I'll get another chance at some point."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket