Time to call stumps on Cricket Australia’s rotation policy

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Australia's Peter Siddle celebrates after dismissing Sachin Tendulker.

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It is a complete and utter fallacy to say that bowlers nowadays have greater workloads than players of the past.

It is the workload argument that is the primary reason for Cricket Australia’s latest innovation – the oft questioned and criticised, rotation policy.

It is a policy that has not been designed by cricket people but by sports scientists and biomechanists.

The rationale behind this new fad is the thing that troubles me.

Let’s, for argument’s sake, have a look at workloads of cricketers in days past.

And keeping in mind that the rotation policy centres around pace bowlers, that is what we will compare.

If you go back to the immediate post-war period you can get some astronomical figures with regard to the number of balls delivered by English bowlers during their careers.

Alec Bedser delivered 106,118 deliveries in 485 first-class matches, Brian Statham 100,955 in 559, and Fred Trueman 99,700 in 603.

But let’s move further forward and look at some more recent bowlers:

             f/c matches balls List A balls Total balls
G McKenzie      383     76,888    151    7,515    84,403
J Snow          346     60,958    182    8,882    69,840
R Willis        328     47,986    293   14,983    62,969
M Marshall      408     74,645    440   22,332    96,977
C Walsh         429     85,443    440   21,881    107,324
Waqar Younis    228     39,182    411   19,811    58,993
Wasim Akram     257     50,277    594   29,719    79,996
D Gough         248     44,023    420   20,665    64,688
A Donald        316     58,801    458   22,856    81,657
A Caddick       275     59,663    262   12,827    72,490

Even more interesting is the number of deliveries and workload that was undertaken by all-rounders back in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Unfortunately there is no definitive number of balls bowled for Richard Hadlee, but one would imagine they would be on a par, if not greater, than the other great all-rounders of the period:

             f/c matches balls   List A balls Total balls
I Botham   402   63,547    470   22,899    86,446
Imran Khan 382   65,224    425   19,122    84,346
Kapil Dev  275   48,853    310   14,947    63,800

When you consider that the ‘Great Four’ also had to spend many hours at the crease as batsmen the work that they did with the ball is quite incredible when compared to the specialist bowlers who have been listed above.

And what about the figures for contemporary all-rounders, of which there aren’t all that many:

             f/c matches balls  List A balls Total balls
S Pollock    186   39,067    435   21,588    60,655
J Kallis     249   28,238    417   13,559    41,797
A Flintoff   183   22,799    282     9,416    32,215

Now, let’s have a look at the workloads that have been endured by Australian pace bowlers who have played a significant number of Tests in recent times:

             f/c matches balls   List A balls Total balls
G McGrath      189   41,759    305   15,808    57,567
B Lee          116   24,193    262   13,475    37,668
J Gillespie    189   35,372    192   10,048    45,420
A Bichel       186   37,197    235    11,433    48,630
M Kasprowicz   242   49,376    226    11,037    60,413

None of these players bowled as much as Botham, Kapil, Imran and Hadlee, and never had to do the batting.

And what of the two current Australian bowlers with significant Test experience who are part of the rotation system (stats prior to the start of the current SCG Test):

             f/c matches balls List A      balls Total balls
M Johnson  90   18,174    141      7,122    25,296
P Siddle   70   13,832      38     1,816    15,648

Given their ages – Johnson 31 and Siddle 28 – neither are likely to post numbers anywhere near the likes of McGrath, Kasprowicz or Bichel.

Many talk about the travel component of the modern-day cricketer and the influence it has on the body.

That is a fair point, but I would argue that the likes of Walsh, Marshall, Wasim and Donald had their fair share of travel as well.

Cricket Australia continues to preach that Test cricket is still the pre-eminent form of the game – and thank God they do – but if that is the case, surely it would be better to implement a rotation policy during limited-over tournaments.

That is even if the policy is required.

This is what South Africa has done with Dale Steyn, who claimed his 300th wicket in his 61st Test this week.

When available, he plays Test cricket and is never rotated out of the side, and interestingly, he is the number one bowler in the world.

During the reign of the mighty West Indian sides of the late-1970s and ‘80s, fast bowlers were not rotated but selected on merit, even though many also played for six months of the year on the English county circuit.

To rest Mitchell Starc after successive five-wicket hauls, and whilst in the form of his career, for the Boxing Day Test beggars belief.

Given the workloads that were efficiently handled, often in their stride, by players of years past perhaps it is time for CA to revisit its rotation policy.

Simply trotting out the line that players are overworked nowadays is extremely questionable.

It wasn’t that long ago that the likes of Terry Alderman, Geoff Lawson and Dennis Lillee would play up to five Sheffield Shield matches and numerous domestic one-dayers each season between Test and ODI commitments.

Nowadays, players hardly turn out for their states because they are ordered to rest by the powers that be at CA.

Surely then they do not need additional rest periods when Test matches are being played.

The baggy green has always been regarded as one of the most treasured commodities in Australian sport.

Let’s have the best players, especially when they are in form, playing in the Test arena.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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