Time to call stumps on Cricket Australia’s rotation policy

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

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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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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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    The Crowd Says (92)

    • January 6th 2013 @ 8:30am
      Swampy said | January 6th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Thanks Glenn, I am so thankful for you compiling that set of statistics. I have posted previously asking about this exact scenario in counter to the rotation policy. It backs up everything many people suggested was the case.

      It is the statistical proof.

      Please forward to Cricket Australia and their sports science department.

      Well Done!

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • January 15th 2013 @ 9:16am
        Ron Johanson said | January 15th 2013 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Thanks heaps Glenn for these insightful figures. This is not rocket science, surely you always put your best team on the park!

    • January 6th 2013 @ 8:37am
      WW said | January 6th 2013 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      some great stats here….

      The rotation policy is not smart. yes rest a player from time to time if needed but why does there need to be a policy? there just doesn’t need to be one. Players should play if fit.

      what we should be asking is why test cricket, a game that goes for 5 days, is the only popular team sport that i can think of where you can’t make a sunbstitute if a player goes down injured.

      i’ve been saying for years that having a 12th man to carry drinks is an out dated part of the game. Obviously there needs to be rules to avoid it becoming some kind of unfair tactic but the 12th man should be allowed to be subbed into a match if indeed one of the bowlers breaks down.

      I remember a period where Brett lee carried the drinks for about 12-18 months with very little cricket. so we have an elite athlete carrying the drinks for 5 days… game after game after game. And even if one of the team breaks down he can’t be subbed in as he would in every other popular team sport. I think its ludicrous and out-dated… and if the law was changed we’d not have to worry as much about rotation… beacuse we know we won’t be disadvantaged if a bowler breaks down… and so the paying public get to see the best available 11 players get selected for each match… and the 12th man gets a go if indeed needed.

    • January 6th 2013 @ 9:07am
      Average Punter said | January 6th 2013 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Great article, Glen. I would like to get your opinion and that of others on this question:

      In the history of test cricket, has there ever been so many injuries to bowlers as we have seen in Australian side over the past few seasons?

      Are these so called “scientists” then actually causing more injuries than reducing them? The question needs to be asked.

      • January 6th 2013 @ 10:30am
        MrKistic said | January 6th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        This is a big part of the problem AP. How can we really tell one way or the other? Is it the boffins causing it? Is it the modern footwear? Is it the increased training? Is it the putting in more effort in the field? Is it the growth hormones in the chicken?!? Everything has changed so much over time that it’s tricky to know one way or the other.

        Which, of course, totally discounts the theory in the first place. And the majority of people who don’t work for CA are fairly sure that it’s rubbish and you bowl the bowlers when they’re fit. Full stop, the end.

        Now we’ve just seen the ODI team announced where Wade, Warner and Clarke are being rested for the first two games. Clarke because of his hamstring (despite Clarke insisting he’s been 100% for the last two tests), Wade and Warner because… what? They’re young, they’re fit and they’re not bowlers. At least Finchy gets a gig I suppose.

      • January 6th 2013 @ 11:11am
        doozel said | January 6th 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        I think there is a very a simple explanation for all of the injuries, not bowling enough. Junior cricket over restrictions has created a generation of bowlers who have never been found out bowling long spells. In years gone by a lot of these bowlers although having lots of potential would have have broken down in junior, grade or shield cricket and would never made it to international level.

        Nearly all the bowlers (except Bird) can bowl well over 140km. The analogy is they are like top fuel drag cars that have only gone the quarter mile then are expected to win Bathurst over 1000kms.

        Essentially bodies that could not survive the rigors of bowling lots of overs were found out before international cricket. Bowling quick is very hard, 99.9% of people just can’t do it.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2013 @ 11:39am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 6th 2013 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        AP, I can’t help but fall in line with the theories put forward by bowlers of the past, and some of them not that long past, that much of he fitness and resilience required for bowling comes from bowling. I don’t have the empirical evidence, but I cannot remember a period where so many bowlers have fallen to injury – Pattinson, Cummins, McKay, Hastings, Harris, McDonald, M Marsh, Watson, Bollinger – have ll gone down of late, and there are probably others. It is an incredibly worrying trend.

        • January 7th 2013 @ 11:44am
          jameswm said | January 7th 2013 @ 11:44am | ! Report

          It’s a combination of bowling and gym work. You can’t simply discount the gym work, which is also what got D K Lillee back on track after his back stress fractures early in his career. And by gym work, I don’t mean My Universe weightlifting, I mean the core strength and flexibility training they need.

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2013 @ 9:43am
      sheek said | January 6th 2013 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      Thank you Glenn,

      I am shoulder to shoulder with you on this. The sooner this insidious, impractical, stupid practice is removed, the better. Unfortunately, all the stats in the world won’t help.

      I think the only thing left is ridicule. If there’s one thing people don’t like, it’s the perception of stupidity. Assuming they can think in the first place! Human ego is an interesting trait to observe.

      This practice being put in place in the first place has less to do with the ‘Nathan Bracken factor,’ but more to do with the perception of being “seen to be doing something.”

      CA doesn’t really know why its fast bowlers are breaking down, so they’ve implemented the rotation policy until they can come up with something better. It’s so obvious to me. They don’t have a clue why Cummins, or Pattinson, or Starc, or Harris, or Hilfenhaus, are breaking down continually.

      It can be a lot of reasons, but not because they’re being overbowled. Although in some occasional situations that might be the reason. But to throw a cure-all blanket over all pacemen is incredibly dumb.

      I cast my mind back to the summer of 1973/74. Of the four fast bowlers who toured the Windies, both Dennis Lillee & Jeff Hammond broke down with back injuries & missed the entire domestic season. During the season itself (against NZ), both Max Walker & Gus Gilmour missed tests through injury.

      Other fast bowlers used that season/series who also had injuries prior or afterwards, were big Tony Dell & Alan Hurst. Jeff Thomson broke a bone in his foot the previous season & only played the last Shield match of 1973/74.

      They didn’t implement a rotation policy back then. Fast bowlers breaking down is not some new phenomenon.

      Bruce Reid was a phenomenal left-armer from the mid-80s to early 90s, a precursor to Glenn McGrath. But Reid’s tall, skinny, gangling frame was prone to constant breaking down. On the tour of the Windies in 1991, Reid found the practice of squeezing into small commercial aircraft for inter-island travel, did his dicky back no good at all.

      For some sportsmen, no matter how talented or fit they are, are cursed by genetics. Roger Gould, the brilliant Wallabies fullback of the 1980s, suffered from a sciatic problem in his thighs that saw him miss many tests through injury. For Gould, a rotation policy would not have helped.

      But understanding his body & applying the right preventive policies would have helped keep him on the paddock as often as possible.

      This is what professional sportsmen want – to be able to play as often as possible. Not force-rested because of some dubious, politically correct, severely flawed policy.

      End of rant!

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2013 @ 11:41am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 6th 2013 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Sheek, as always, a very sensible ‘rant’. You are spot on, some human bodies are always going to be susceptible to injury no matter what. The Bruce Reid situation was an extremely sad one, cutting down a man who surely would have claimed 300+ Test wickets.

        • January 6th 2013 @ 4:41pm
          BennO said | January 6th 2013 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

          I gotta say, that doesn’t seem like a sensible rant to me.

          Bruce Reid broke down a lot from bowling but a rest every now and then or a longer break between games wouldn’t have helped at all?

          And applying the right preventative policies would have helped Gould play for longer but that wouldn’t have included a rest here and there?

          Seems a lot of sheek’s points are arguments in favour of a rotation policy.

          I dunno, it seems that so many people are shelving rational thought on this one. Time will tell if this is any good. And by time I mean several years or more.

    • January 6th 2013 @ 10:06am
      Rhys said | January 6th 2013 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      Glenn, some very interesting and enlightening stats there.

      Having grown up in the 70s and 80s I had an expectation that, barring injury, the best team available would be on show for every Test (and ODI). This was also during the era when the scheduling of Tests and ODIs overlapped, and I don’t recall there being any conjecture over whether or not a fully fit Dennis Lillee or Geoff Lawson should be rested for this game or that game, let alone the nonsense we hear these days about players having trouble adjusting their game between formats.

      I would like to see one rotation policy implemented though – the position of high performance manager at CA.

    • January 6th 2013 @ 10:20am
      pj said | January 6th 2013 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      gday ww, great comment there. i think it is an urgent matter to be addressed as far as 12th subbing. especially when there is a genuine injury to batsman or bowler who cannot complete the game. also, it seems to me and probably others, that the more ‘science’ becomes involved in this wonderfully simple game the more it gets people &%#*@% up? one doesnt need a thesis to determine this . thanks for the stats mr maxwell, it has proved we need to keep a certain degree of “education” away from this cricket team and sport in general. hey pat, reckon you could apply for position as high performance manager to the state and federal government. theyre the drones who really need a butt kickin. our oz team can perform quite well on their own.

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