October is my favourite month of the year. Not because of the warmer weather, the longer days, or that Halloween parties are just around the corner. Dust off the pads, press your whites and pull your Kookaburra out of the depths of your shed, because its Cricket season!
There is a misconception among many people that cricket does not require a great deal of fitness. I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is far from the truth. Cricket is an interesting mixture of explosive efforts and stamina all played out often under quite severe heat. Cricket also requires plenty of thought and concentration and poor fitness is often the key factor in poor decision making.
Fast bowling especially requires a high degree of fitness. A fast bowler is required to sprint to the crease, leap into the air, land safely and then propel the ball down the pitch not only a great speed, but also with accuracy. This requires a combination of core control, strength, power, co-ordination, mobility. The efforts can be quite varied. For example in a T20 game, they might only be required to bowl 4 overs (24 balls) but the bowler needs to be ready to bowl at anytime. In longer format cricket they may need to bowl extended spells (for example 8 overs at a time) and might be required to bowl several spells in a day. It is quite likely that a fast bowler might need to bowl 20 overs or more in a days play which ends up being 120 individual, explosive efforts.
If you still think that this sounds easy, consider the following.
Ground Reaction Force
Studies on elite fast bowlers have shown that the vertical ground reaction force (the force travelling up through the body) can be as high as 8 times body weight and the horizontal reaction force (the braking force through the front leg on landing) can be as high as 5 times body weight. This is a significant amount of force each and every time the bowler lands at the crease and is felt at every major joint through the front leg. This makes fast bowlers susceptible to injuries to the feet, ankle (such as Mitchell Starc), knee (such as Ryan Harris) and hips. If you are watching the coverage of the cricket on TV this season (and you can put up with the blokey back-slapping and cringe-worthy cross-promotions) take a moment to watch the slow-motion footage of a fast bowler landing at the crease from side on.
It is hard work.
Back injuries in Fast Bowling
The injury that is most commonly associated with fast bowling is injury to the lower back or lumbar spine. Fast bowlers are especially prone to stress fractures to the vertebrae of the lumbar spine, known as pars interarticularis fractures and/or spondylolisthesis. The repetitive stress placed on these bones by the trunk extending and rotating in preparation to bowl coupled with the high ground reaction forces can lead to weakening and eventually failure of the bone.
Recovery from this type of injury is lengthy and will force the bowler out of the game for an extended period of time. The best most recent example is Pat Cummins, who has missed large chunks of cricket over the last 5 years and is now only just starting to string some consistent cricket together.
Factors to consider
Teenage fast bowlers are especially prone to lumbar stress fractures. This is because bones in teenagers are remodelling themselves at a much higher rate than those of an adult. This means that they might be relatively weak and may not cope with the repetitive loading of fast bowling.
There is such a thing as a “safe” bowling action. It is preferable to have either a “side on” or a “front on” action. These methods reduce the twisting load placed on the lumbar vertebrae and reduces the stress on the bone. Bowlers who adopt a “mixed” increase these loads significantly.
Cricket administrators have long recognised that there is such a thing as too much bowling for young cricketers and have placed limits on how many overs and balls a player can bowl during games and also at training. Coaches should be aware of this and adhere to these limits. For further details go to https://community.cricket.com.au/
Core strength and control
A lack of strength and control of the trunk, abdominal and gluteal muscles can cause the pelvis to become tilted during the landing phase, placing additional compressive load on the lumbar spine.
As a former fast (ok, medium pace) bowler, Physiotherapist and Level 1 cricket coach, I am well placed to discuss all aspects of injury prevention and management in cricket. As well as being able to provide advice on back injury management and core strength, I also have access to software to perform analysis of fast bowling technique. The clinic has a very well equipped Pilates studio and also offers the Teen’s ABC program which can be utilised by young cricketers wishing to improve core strength and control.
Physiotherapist at Corio Bay Sports Treatment Clinic