`I just bowl'

Today, in departments such as fast bowling, a player is found lacking. I attribute such shortfalls to an over concentration on exercising for `theoretical' strength rather than the `empirical' strength which one acquires on the cricket field.

Recently, as I was leafing through the sporting pages of a few English and Australian newspapers, I came up with a strange fistful of facts: an all-sorts mixture of football statistics, the rugby union results from South Africa's international clash with Samoa; the outcomes of the rugby league games in Sydney, the nomination of the Sorceries 23-man Squad for the Asian Cup in July; the progress scores for the St. Jude's American PGA tournament in Memphis, the semifinal results for Day 12 of the French Open tennis at Roland Garros; the schedule for India's upcoming cricket tour of England in July and August and then a report of Ian Bell's 97 against the West Indies.

It was a list, which made one realise how much sport is played every week around the globe. At the bottom of the list came a thoroughly peculiar item — a lengthy list of players injured in the previous Saturday's Australian Rules League games! Some were slightly concussed or suffered comparatively minor injuries; but many, however, were supported off the field with knees which suggested that they might be destined for the orthopaedic surgeon's couch and reconstructions on the following Monday. One unfortunate, it was subsequently reported, suffered a fractured femur, and as a consequence was heading for a lengthy period in traction, encased in plaster and lying on a hospital bed.

The impact of such misfortunes caused me to pause and reflect on the number of injuries suffered by Test players in the preceding 12 months — and cogitate on the results that they exercised on the games in which they occurred. For instance, it would be unwise to attribute England's narrow-squeak victory in the Ashes of 2005 exclusively to Glenn McGrath being unable to bowl effectively in the Trent Bridge and Lord's Tests — by reason of his standing on a ball during pre-match practice and rolling his ankle — just as it would be wrong to point to the inhibitive factor of a Shane Warne shoulder injury as the decisive factor in the same series. After all, injury, and the subsequent defection or retirement of key Aussie players appeared to do little to affect the Australian mastery of the cricketing world in the World Cup. Cricket's legacies are far more sequential than that.

On the other hand, Flintoff, Trescothick and Vaughan were, at times, hamstrung and hog-tied by injuries. What made England's onerous schedule seem even more heavy-handed, than it was, was its two dimensional effect on some key England players: all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, opener Marcus Trescothick and fast bowler Steve Harmison. The versatile Michael Vaughan carried on his broad shoulders, the dual responsibility of skipper as well as that of England's most accomplished and reliable batsman. His repeated cartilage problems was his personal sterile, which he bore with stoicism but without success — as did Freddie Flintoff with his painful heel spurs.

For his part, Marcus Trescothick, demonstrated early in 2005 that mental pain is just as debilitating as the physical kind. He also retired psychologically shattered before a ball was bowled in the Ashes rubber of 2006-07. I personally thought that quick bowler Harmison might prove a deciding element Down Under; the pace bowler had genuine speed and lift capable of embarrassing the most accomplished of batsmen. But when the first ball in one of his opening spells early in the tour was so misdirected that it flew towards second slip, my optimism fled with the delivery. It was not a ball, which one has come to expect from a Test match bowler, even one carrying "twinges". And realistically speaking, today's cricketers should be injury free. After all, most national representatives have the support of thirty-strong squads of technical coaches, propped up by fitness consultants, fielding specialists, psychologists, movement managers, and Uncle Tom Cobley and All!

They had no need to analyse where their batting bowling and fielding strengths and weaknesses lie. They only had to ask the relevant coaching departments for solutions and all would be revealed! Their pre- and post-season training programmes were mapped out for them and their short and long term goals are clearly designated. Gone are the bad old days when injuries were not graded according to their severity; and when a teams' injury management personnel consisted of a "slap and tickle" masseur; and a muscle twinge only resulted in the doling out of an aspirin and the advice to "run it off around the ground!!!"

Nowadays fitness training is far more specific to the cricketer's `on the field' job. Fast bowlers concentrate on exercising leg, trunk and shoulders to educe more strength in these areas. Batsmen focus on nimbleness, fast arm movements, and quick running speed. With all the attributes factored into a specialised training schedule, it would not be unreasonable to expect the modern cricketer to be a far more accomplished sportsman than he actually is. But is he? In some instances the conscientious athlete can reply `yes' to that query.

Too often, however, in departments such as fast bowling, he is found lacking. I attribute such shortfalls to an over concentration on exercising for `theoretical' strength rather than the `empirical' strength which one acquires on the cricket field. When the last generation of genuine quick bowlers such as Yorkshire's Freddie Trueman and Lancashire's Brian Statham were asked how they got fit, they invariably replied, "I just bowl!"

What do you think?