Moderation: the new fast bowlers code

With the glow of Australia’s win in the recent cricket World Cup slowly fading I thought now might be a great time to examine one of the contributing factors to the success. Australia’s dominate fast bowling performance. In the week following the win, many commentators have suggested that one of the big reasons for Australia’s win was it’s bowling strength. This is in no small part due Mitchell Starc’s great tournament, resulting in him receiving Player of the Tournament.

For cricket fast bowlers to have their greatest impact they must be fit and firing during critical moments in a tournament such as the World Cup. Therefore reducing the rate and risk of injury is critical to a team’s success. Over the last few years Cricket Australia’s Medical Team has completed extensive work on the reasons and factors resulting in injuries to its fast bowlers. This has led to the much maligned “Rotation Policy” being ridiculed by the media and fans alike. However what effect did this policy have on Australia’s eventual success?

Recent studies into injuries sustained in cricket have found that fast bowlers suffer almost half of all injuries. Further to this is the finding that 22% of the injuries occur to the lumbar spine or low back (Frost & Chalmers, 2014). With fast bowlers being at high risk of injury it is important that these risks are managed to ensure our greatest strength can fire when needed.

How do we keep fast bowlers injury free?

It is recognised in sport and exercise that sudden increases in activity are associated with injury. It has been identified that there is a relationship between bowler workload and injury in both junior and adult cricket (J. W. Orchard et al., 2015). The complication in all this data is the question “how much is too much” and “how much is not enough”. There remains a thought amongst clinicians and researchers that some injuries sustained in cricket are actually brought about by not enough load or the consequence of sudden spikes in load from low to high and vice versa. Therefore a moderate workload seems the best way to minimise the risk of injury. This has been further defined as moderate bowling being 20-30 match overs per week, 150-200 match overs per three months and 400-450 match overs per year (J. W. Orchard et al., 2015). These figures relate to the adult fast bowler and are yet to be clearly defined for junior cricketers.

The Effect of Research and Rotation

So we know that a moderate amount of bowling load is the best way to reduce injury rates in fast bowlers. We recognise that quick changes in load can be the trigger for injury. We then look at the three forms of cricket played and when they are played in the calendar. We can see that moving from a Test series, to T20 followed by a One Day International (ODI) tournament could spell disaster for our fast bowlers. Combine this knowledge with data that confirms that fast bowlers will tend to suffer their injuries 21 to 28 days after a spike in bowling workload and the evidence and rationale for rotation becomes clear (John W Orchard, James, Portus, Kountouris, & Dennis, 2009). In this context I can certainly see why the same bowlers that played Test matches against India, didn’t play all the lead up ODI’s and would be restricted from playing T20 Big Bash. These processes therefore allow the Australian selectors to put the best bowling attack in the final of the World Cup. No doubt contributing to Mitchell Starc’s ability to have a very successful tournament.

What about Amateurs and Junior Cricketers?

The link between load and injury is still important for cricketers away from the elite level, however other factors have a role to play. These factors include technique, physical preparation and once again overuse (Dennis, Finch, & Farhart, 2005). In the amateur and junior player this means ensuring good technique when fast bowling whilst also ensuring good physical conditioning. This is not always an area for concern, especially for those who get off the couch and then decide to roll their arm over at training. In the junior cricketer overuse becomes a particularly important aspect. With growth comes the risk of injury especially if combined with high levels of activity. This means bowling at school, club and then local representative level may not always be the best approach. Whilst moving from winter straight to summer sport can contribute to injury risk. The other risky time for our junior cricketers is their move into senior cricket. We must again be mindful of the spike in bowling loads leading to injury.

Take Home Message

Let’s all enjoy Australia’s success in the recent World Cup and acknowledge the valuable role played by the researchers and Medical team involved with Cricket Australia. If you’re a junior cricketer don’t throw away the cricket ball over winter and keep up physical activity. Whilst the amateurs shouldn’t bowl off the long run at the first pre-season session and stay conditioned over winter. Remember everything in Moderation.

APRIL 6, 2015

Dennis, R. J., Finch, C. F., & Farhart, P. J. (2005). Is bowling workload a risk factor for injury to Australian junior cricket fast bowlers? British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.018515

Frost, W. L., & Chalmers, D. J. (2014). Injury in elite New Zealand cricketers 2002-2008: descriptive epidemiology. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(12), 1002–1007. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091337

Orchard, J. W., Blanch, P., Paoloni, J., Kountouris, A., Sims, K., Orchard, J. J., & Brukner, P. (2015). Cricket fast bowling workload patterns as risk factors for tendon, muscle, bone and joint injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-093683

Orchard, J. W., James, T., Portus, M., Kountouris, A., & Dennis, R. (2009). Fast bowlers in cricket demonstrate up to 3- to 4-week delay between high workloads and increased risk of injury. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. doi:10.1177/0363546509332430