Sreesanth's heel

SREESANTH ... done in by a sore heel. Cricket injuries should be tackled with modern technology and native intelligence.-AP

The sore heel suffered by Sreesanth after the Antigua Test is a common complaint with pacemen.

Another Renaissance? It seems to me that, just as the 1450s will be remembered for the re-birth of learning in medieval Europe, the first decade of the 21st century will become renowned as the era in which public interest in cricket as an entertainment was revived. It was stimulated by the personalities of leaders such as Andrew Flintoff, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, and the exciting skills of young players like Symonds, Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, and Kevin Pietersen. This was the heady time of Ashes heroes being paraded around London streets and into Trafalgar Square on the upper open deck of a London bus.

How different are these times from the day when American comedian Groucho Marx sat through the leisurely morning session of a county game at Lord's. At lunch he leaned towards his MCC host. "Say", he exclaimed, "When are those guys on the baseball park going to finish their warm-up and start the game?" The French were of a similar persuasion about the sport. A Gallic sportsman once confided to me that he thought that the English were such an irreligious lot, that they invented cricket to give them some idea of Eternity!

To be fair to the stewards of the maligned first-class and international game, they have steered cricket on a constant course, through many a storm, and towards the true north of increased excitement in the game and the popularisation of the sport. The upheaval, which marked the struggle between Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and the Australian Board, injected sport — and not just cricket — with a reinvigorating professional business approach and pragmatic innovative thinking. The truce between World Series Cricket and the Australian Board introduced the playing and telecasting of games at prime viewing times during spectators' leisure hours. The limited-over format ensured a result; technical wizardry introduced stump cameras and mikes, which revealed the secrets of the middle; Hawke-Eye and slow-mo action replays put the umpires' decisions under scrutiny and analysed strokes and actions. Chiron's summarised averages, strike-rates and records. Floodlights turned night into day. Stats by the thousands overwhelmed comprehension. Third umpires played the specialist, diagnosing decisions referred to them by the general practitioners on the field. Match referees instilled discipline and punished those who broke the law. Marketing cricket became almost as important a consideration as the game itself.

Crucially for the players and teams of this era, a financial re-vamp of the sport saw the introduction of monetary rewards for winning teams and for individuals distinguishing themselves in competitions and matches. A significantly greater proportion of the cricket's earnings found its way into the hands of its international and first-class practitioners and the clubs they represented. Promotion of junior cricket and coaching received their slice, as did player education, superannuation and welfare schemes. The organisers of world cricket vacated St. John's Wood and took a step eastwards. Taxation sweeteners tempted the International Cricket Council to the Emirates and the hitherto associate member `minnows' of the ICC — Zimbabwe and Bangladesh — found themselves the beneficiaries of the Test match status given to the "Big Eight."

At individual player level, this was the age when the provincial and international game graduated to full-time professionalism. Players awoke to their sociological career responsibilities. They shouldered their professional training liabilities, acknowledging the necessity to meet the fitness requirements of their job: they recognised that they had to work on their techniques as they would on any full-time job — reinforcing skills with the psychological additive bonuses of such things as arousal levels, self-confidence, relaxation, mental toughness, and positive thinking. They became role models.

Modern ways, but not easy with the plethora of injuries.

I was forcibly reminded of the value of experience in the lead-up to the St. Lucia Test, when Indian paceman Sreesanth reported unfit for the game with a sore heel. Physio, John Gloster, revealed that the fast bowler, who bowled the final overs of the tense draw in Antigua first Test would need three to five days recovery and rehabilitation before reporting back for duty. It reminded me of the occasion in 1956 when I had to inform the selectors that I was unfit for the Lord's Test because of a similar injury. My heel problem lasted two years and kept me out of two seasons of Test Cricket. For the summers of 1956 and '57, I was frequently sidelined by a stone bruise under the thick skin of my left heel. Ostensibly the injury was an impact bruise caused by the constant pounding of my left foot into the pitch in my delivery stride. I tried to remove the cause of my problem by cushioning the impact of my left foot with layers of rubber built into my left boot — and a stiff heel reinforcement to keep my foot in position. All to no avail! My only relief was to pierce the bruise and let the blood out of my heel, thus releasing the pressure — and coincidentally creating an open wound, necessitating a fortnight's healing period before I could resume bowling...

To investigate the injury further, I underwent a type of Heath Robinson, guinea-pig practical experiment. I put myself in the hands of the boffins at the Shoes and Allied Trade Research Association: a group of shoemakers who tested footwear submitted to them by the shoe industry to assess their durability. S.A.T.R.A. had its headquarters in the Northamptonshire town of Kettering and it immediately set its staff to work. They wore my cricket boots specially manufactured for the occasion. The guinea pigs strode up and down their factory grounds, stamping the left heel of my boot hard into the ground, every alternate stride. It was a pretty rough and ready test but in no time they produced the desired effect to the specific experimental: a stone bruise on the base of my left heel! The experiment continued for about three weeks — at the end of which I had a sore heel.

And the solution? The boot scientists created a seamless heel glove out of horsehide. I strapped the glove to the base of my left heel with elastoplast before bowling. Then when I plunged my left heel into the ground as I bowled, 13 � times my body weight passed through a rubber pad, which I had also strapped inside the glove. Importantly there was no friction and no impact between the heel and the heel glove — just between the heel glove and the left boot. No friction, no impact avoided bruising the heel. It was the same principle as a wicketkeeper using a chamois inner glove! From that day I was untroubled by bruised heels and foot injuries!

The moral of the story is that sportsmen should by all means avail themselves of the advantages provided by modern technology. But they should not turn their backs on tried and true benefits furnished by the experience and the players who have preceded them. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sreesanth and John Gloster take note! One further comment. In 1954/55, I toured Australia with Len Hutton's team and in the course of the series I had the privilege of meeting the Bodyline fast bowler, Harold Larwood. He informed me that he had suffered only one foot injury in his whole career. That was a broken foot sustained in the final Test in Sydney — when Jardine kept him on the field until the match and series was won and Bradman was dismissed. He attributed his foot's survival to the fact that he always wore substantial boots, high in the heel and ankle and weighing more than a pound. He advocated me to follow that, saying that strength and weight go together.