Nielsen raises workload issue again

Australia's coach Tim Nielsen has again voiced concerns over players' workload, which he fears could harm their long-term future

Brett Lee has played 13 ODIs and the Champions League in the past two months  •  Getty Images

Brett Lee has played 13 ODIs and the Champions League in the past two months  •  Getty Images

Murphy seems to have changed camps. It was India who started the series wounded: no Zaheer Khan, no Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag's fitness not tested in proper match conditions, and MS Dhoni injured in the nets before the first ODI. One match into the series, and Australia have had a scatter-bomb experience. Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and James Hopes knocked out in two days. And India welcoming back Yuvraj at the same time.
Australia did have a semblance of good news four hours after they had first announced that all three were unfit to play in Nagpur; Johnson responded well to treatment and showed positive signs during training, enough to hope he might just play. But that didn't take away from the disappointment in the Australian camp over the scheduling and the clashes between non-international Twenty20 matches and international cricket.
The coach Tim Nielsen didn't sound as annoyed as Ricky Ponting two days ago, but actually said a lot more. It was as if he wanted to talk about the issue, and responded with a smile and a "very good question," when asked about those clashes. Then he went on to directly blame the hectic workload, increased by the Champions League Twenty20, for Lee's injury.
"It's something that we grapple with every day, dealing with players who are playing with Australia and then their domestic states, and then domestic teams in [the] IPL or Champions League or whatever it may be," Nielsen said. "Brett played six one-dayers in England, followed by five in the Champions Trophy, and then backs it up two full weeks here in the Champions League. And then straight to us, and it's probably no surprise that he has got a stress-related injury.
"We need to be very careful and we need to prioritise what is most important for these players, and to ensure that their long-term future is safe. Having said that, when the initial editions of the Champions League and IPL are coming on, they want their best players to play to ensure that they are marketable and the product is good. It is a balancing act right now that we are going through."
The timing of this series could not have been more absurd. Three Australian players (New South Welshmen) joined the team late in the night on October 24, less than 12 hours before the start of the first game. Three others (Victorians) joined them the night before. Ponting said none of the six was a part of team plans, meetings, long-term preparations. They were lucky to scrape through in Vadodara despite Lee's injury leaving them four overs short from their best bowler, and in the end only four runs separated win and disaster.
Australia are trying their best to manage these workloads, Nielsen said, monitoring the number of balls the bowlers bowl in the nets, testing them pretty much everyday, "getting a feel on how they are going physically, mentally and technically."
"When we get to a stage that we feel the injury risk is big, we talk to the bowler about it and make a decision to either give him a rest or reduce his bowling load." With Lee, though, such assessment was not possible during the two weeks leading into the series. He is yet to play Tests after recovering from a side strain earlier this year, and this elbow blow puts his Test return in further doubt.
Regardless of whether Johnson miraculously returns to full fitness, India will fancy their chances of levelling the series in Nagpur. "If Mitchell and Brett can't play, we are losing about 300 matches in ODIs in terms of their experience," Nielsen said. "And we are talking about six or seven [games] between Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger so that is one of the issues that we have faced and James Hopes has played 60 or 70 games as well - 350 games out is quite a loss."
In hindsight, calling Australia's win in Vadodara an escape will not be way off the mark, given the extent of Lee's injury. It can be said before the start of the Nagpur ODI that they need another escape.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo