Rotate sports scientists, not players

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    James Pattinson is running out of time to get his body up to Test standards. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    Rotation policy. Informed Player Management. The idea of the first causes many to rise up in furious anger. The mention of the second by anyone associated with Cricket Australia makes all of us die a little inside.

    Are they one and the same? Does the first even exist? Should the second?

    Behind these new age expressions and questions lingers the suspicion that the oft-mentioned but rarely seen sports scientists, apparently infused with the wisdom of a thousand Dumbledores and owners of Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, are selecting Australian cricket teams, or at the very least dictating who should be available, for how long, and how much ‘loading’ their fragile bodies can take.

    Apart from anything else, there’s no evidence to confirm these people, with seemingly enough power in sporting organisations to give God an inferiority complex, know what they’re doing.

    James Pattinson injured himself in three separate Tests in 2012, forcing him to miss eight matches. Ben Hilfenhaus was ‘player managed’ out of the Perth test this summer, only to injure himself in Hobart eleven days later.

    John Hastings played one Test and missed a month of cricket.

    As an aside, Essendon is one of the richest clubs in the AFL, and we imagine they spent millions of dollars on their sports science department in 2012. First they endured one of the most soft-tissue injury ravaged seasons we’ve ever seen in 2012, and now…well…let’s just say if you don’t love the Bombers you hate them, so all we can do is watch on and laugh.

    But back to the cricket – what is fact and what is fiction? I certainly don’t know, but for every connected cricket insider or ex-player that swears one thing to be true, you’ll find a CA representative to dismiss such an idea with nothing short of contempt.

    Of course, it’s hard to get to the bottom of any of this now that chairman of selectors John Inverarity is on public record admitting that lying to the public about why a cricketer might miss a match is preferable to telling the truth.

    So, where do we go from here?

    My take is quite simple: The rotation policy is nothing short of an absolute disgrace. It is also completely essential if implemented correctly.

    Allow me to expand on this apparent contradiction.

    With Test matches being the pinnacle of cricket (with the exception of the BBL, IPL and Champions’ League of course) the Australian Test team should always be beyond compromise, and not subject to any form of manipulation that doesn’t involve selecting the best team to win a match at the given time.

    The thing is, the Test side has always had a form of rotation policy. If a batsman was under-performing and there was a better option available, he was dropped. If a bowler was injured and unable to take part, he wasn’t selected.

    Does it need to be any simpler than this? Not in the opinion of this humble observer, if we’re to avoid repeats of the farce that occurred in Sydney against Sri Lanka.

    As we all now know, Mitchell Starc was rotated out of the MCG Boxing Day test while being promised reinstatement for Sydney (and don’t even get me started on a player being promised a Test cap ahead of time).

    The problem was that the fast bowling brigade in Melbourne were all, effectively, ‘un-rotatable’.

    Jackson Bird was arguably the most impressive of the three and, as a debutant that struck all who saw him as a perfect fit for Test matches on English soil, he needed more exposure at the highest level.

    Mitchell Johnson got the figures, made the runs, and was hostile enough to injure as many as he got out on his way to the Man-of-the-Match award. Peter Siddle, sparingly used in Melbourne, had taken 9/104 in his previous test, and in any case was seen as the mythical ‘leader of the attack’.

    Nathan Lyon was the spinner all summer, and none were as safe as he heading into Sydney.

    So who was dropped to accommodate Starc?

    None of them of course. With CA now standing for ‘Compromise Australia’, the selectors decided that hard decisions weren’t required. Rather than give Glenn Maxwell exposure at Test level to see if he could cut the mustard in India, or to bring a clearly identified future batsman like Usman Khawaja back into the fold, they would go in with five bowlers.

    The game was won, completing a series whitewash, and no doubt at CA headquarters pats on the back were being thrown around like confetti. But the ends didn’t justify the means and a valuable opportunity to glimpse the future was thrown away because the selectors had painted themselves into a corner of weakness.

    So, after all of this, when is rotation ‘completely essential’ as I had written earlier?

    Any series of one-day and T20 internationals would be the answer, although I’d call it rest rather than rotation.

    There isn’t a cricket fan with a mouth who hasn’t decried the amount of meaningless ODIs that get played throughout the cricketing calendar. The same people were up in arms about David Warner, Michael Clarke and Matthew Wade being rested for the first two matches against Sri Lanka.

    So they should have been rested, and frankly it wasn’t for long enough.

    Resting established Test match personnel from limited overs cricket after a long and exhausting series is where the rotation policy can come into its own. Squeeze every ounce of effort, skill and mental application out of these guys in the Test arena, and give them a break when it’s over.

    I’ve long been a fan of potential Test players getting exposure to international cricket though ODIs, with Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke, among many others, all examples of this thinking.

    Resting senior hands gives the ODI side a freshen-up, both internally and to the cricket public. For many fans, it’s the first time they’ll see a player who they’ve heard is tearing it up at Shield level.

    Watching a player bowl or bat during a 50 over match can give one an insight into whether his technique, concentration and skill are transferable to the Test arena.

    Based purely on Glenn Maxwell’s first class averages, I was thinking he would be well worth taking a punt on.

    Having seen him with bat and ball in hand for the first time during recent ODIs, I’ve now got huge reservations. Not as huge as Maxwell’s bank balance I must say, but big enough all the same.

    As for T20, I’m of the opinion that no Test player should be considered for selection in the format. If the workloads are so strenuous, as we are constantly told, and Test cricket is the most important, as we are constantly lied to about, then there can be no issues with such a stance.

    As for those thinking that what the public or broadcasters want should have any impact on selection (ie – Warner to play all ODIs and T20), if that were the case, Dean Jones would still be named in every Australian match played at the MCG.

    The sanctity of Test cricket must remain absolute, and selection should be treated accordingly each time an Australian Test XI steps onto the field of play. By all means, rest, rotate, have a look at other players in the shorter forms, but let natural selection take its course in tests.

    And if anyone can nail down a sports scientist, rotate them out of the sporting infrastructure for me.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (66)

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:03am
      Jason said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      Outstanding article.

      Not much to add really. Perhaps maybe to point out that the Test calendar should have fewer back to back tests so you don’t get the WACA situation happening. If that’s at the expense of ODIs, no biggie..

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:16am
      Train Without A Station said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Another article bagging the rotation policy without knowing the full story. Starc’s rotation could be cited on form anyway. Get over it. You missed a quote some yesterday’s hero whose era was nothing like today saying something like “Back in my day we just bowled all the time”. Move on. It’s basically the first summer in, by the Ashes we will know whether this is the future strategy to top a massive injury problem,or a failed experiment. Something had to be tried, so they went with the method deemed the best by people that know more than you or myself about it.

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 8:38am
        Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        Thanks for reading Train.

        Starc’s rotation could be cited on form? In his previous test innings he took 5/63 and bowled Australia to victory, and had taken 14 wickets in his prior two tests, not to mention making 73 runs for only once dismissed.

        I’d love to hear the clarification for “something had to be tried”.

        • February 6th 2013 @ 12:20pm
          Rob Barrow said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          I like the artiicle and think he decision to play 5 bowlers in the SCG test was wrong as we should have played Khawaja give it was a dead rubber

      • February 6th 2013 @ 1:52pm
        Bayman said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        Train,

        How do you know if Cameron knows the full story or not? Do you know the full story? As Cameron has subsquently pointed out, Starc may well have been left out but it wasn’t because of form.

        The problem is that for the past several years fast bowlers, in particular, have been dropping like flies. In all that time there have been CA sports scientists with input into their training and practice regimes. Only a few years ago NSW alone had six or seven quicks sidelined because of injury. A couple of them mis-diagnosed by the experts at CA.

        Now we have ‘informed player management’ (love that term) and guess what – we’ve stll had six or seven quicks watching on and some of them for all of summer. It definitely raises a question about whether these fitness gurus have any clue at all.

        It’s not a question of simply “getting over it”. You may well be one of those who believes whatever you are told on the basis that authority figures would never lie to you. Or attempt to blind you with science. Governments, corporations, churches and powerful sporting bodies just love people like that. It makes life easy for them and makes them unaccountable.

        The evidence is all we have and, in this instance, the evidence does not suggest to any thinking person that those at CA have any clue. Lots of educated guesses, maybe, but nothing that looks like actual expertise. These people, based on the evidence, are in need of something slightly more concrete than the statement, “You’ll have to trust us – because you simply do not understand the science”. Maybe we don’t – but we do understand the results.

        You criticise the idea that old players might say “Just bowl and bowl some more”. – as if they were actually wrong. How do you know they are wrong? Presumably, and I’m guessing here, because like so many younger people with no real experience of those old days you automatically assume that all change is progress – and an improvement.

        You don’t think, for example, that once a path is travelled (e.g. sports sience) and careers and empires built, that those now in those roles might have a vested interest to discredit old ways and to promote their own views as the only true method.

        Now I’m not saying they are all wrong but I’m damned if I’m going to just accept that everything new is better just because it suits some career hanger-on for me to think so. They need to back up their theories and, let’s face it, right now it’s just theories, with a hell of lot better results than we are getting.

        In the modern cricket landscape rotation may well be the sensible thing to do. But let’s also get our players back on the park or even better, let’s prevent them from getting injured so often. Optionally, perhaps all we really need to do is schedule the season more sensibly. Then, perhaps, not only might the injuries subside but the need for rotation, and a bagfull of sports scientists, will also subside along with it.

        Of course, if re-working the schedule is an impossibilty in today’s heavily commercialised world, then perhaps we can also conclude that CA does not really give a rats about the fitness, health and well-being of those who allow these beaurocrats to enjoy the priveleged lifestyle they have manufactured for themselves – the players.

        • February 6th 2013 @ 8:29pm
          Brendon said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          Great article and a great opinion from Bayman, I’ll admit I wasn’t happy with batsmen being rested for ODI’s but having just watched 8 ODI’s with little more than 5 day breaks to break them up and then some T20 thrown in then perhaps I was wrong.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 8:38am
      Rob said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Agree with the article. Must say I was pleased to see the latest ratings for this summer had tests picking back up and the gap between them and ODI’s almost non-existent. Like it or not, with huge dollars on the line in the next TV rights agreement, who knows how much influence this could be having on selection and the approach taken.

      The higher tests rate, the less rotation there will be. Whilst the Australian Test line up should be sacrosanct, an important factor of it becoming so is Tests becoming the best viewing of the summer, I think that point is coming close, now if cricket could only get a test starting at 1pm and finishing at 8:30pm, I think we’d be there.

      Then leave all the ODI’s and T20 to fill in the gaps (like Sunday AFL games on Foxtel…).

      • February 6th 2013 @ 9:33am
        jameswm said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        Yeah night tests are something they really need to look at for ratings. Maybe not the Boxing Day test, or even the Sydney test, because most of us are on holidays. But for the others, we’d love to get home from work a bit early and catch the last session or two.

        This needs to be seriously looked at, esp for Brisbane and Adelaide. Perth benefits from its last session being easily viewable by the more populous Eastern states because of the time difference.

    • Columnist

      February 6th 2013 @ 8:58am
      Ryan O'Connell said | February 6th 2013 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Yep, can’t disagree with too much here, Cam.

      I think it’s safe to say I share your huge reservations on Glenn Maxwell. Though I’ve probably graduated from ‘reservations’ to outright dismay that he’s in line for a Test debut.

      Incidentally, remember when we all used to talk about the cricket? It’s a damn shame that this summer, for me, will always be remembered as the season we talked about rotation policies, Informed Player Management, the selectors, etc, instead of the actual cricket. Anytime you’re not talking about the actual sport, I would suggest something is wrong.

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 9:09am
        Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        Excellent point Ryan. If the cricket is good enough (or any sport for that matter), it will always overshadow what’s happening off the field.

        Perhaps this is a byproduct of living in a more complicated cricket world. It’s always easy to hark back to a simpler time, but the world of cricket now seems a complicated mess with so many formats, teams and competitions fighting for space.

      • Roar Guru

        February 6th 2013 @ 12:41pm
        The Barry said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Couldn’t agree more Ryan. Following the first two tests this has been the most uninspiring summer of cricket I can remember. With India and back to back ashes series coming up this summer should have been providing valuable insight into the make-up of the various squads.

        Instead we have no idea who the best Australian XI is in any format. The team has three of four personnel changes game to game. Players come in for a game and are gone again. Caps seem to be given away like cereal trinkets. How is any of this good for the game ?

        If ever sports needed an example of how to disenfranchise their spectators, this summer from CA is it.

        When you have all the (now boring) selection controversies overshadow what’s happening on the field and the head of selectors telling us that we don’t deserve to know how or why OUR Australian XI has been selected there is something seriously wrong.

      • February 6th 2013 @ 2:25pm
        rl said | February 6th 2013 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

        Selection policy will always be a point of debate – always has, always will be. A couple of years ago we had different captains for tests and ODIs and boy, wasn’t that the end of civilisation as we knew it?

        I’m more concerned with issues like excess volume of cricket diluting public interest, so they aren’t really talking about the cricket at all. There has been an awlful lot of people very convincingly disguised as empty seats at the cricket this year. CA is killing the goose.

        • Columnist

          February 6th 2013 @ 9:59pm
          Ryan O'Connell said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:59pm | ! Report

          Selections have always been a topic of discussion, but I can’t remember selection policies ever being discussed, mainly because we just used to pick our best team. We might have disagreed with who that ‘best’ were, but we weren’t dismayed with policies, resting, player management, and confusing comments.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 9:45am
      D.Large said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Some great points here, cannot agree more on the resting of test players for the shorter forms of the game. These formats should be how we bring in the next generation of Australian Test cricketers.

    • February 6th 2013 @ 9:54am
      sledgeross said | February 6th 2013 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      WIth all the talk about playing matches, what about the old Ashes tours? Admittedly, it was squad based, but teh core Test group played majority of games.

      In 1997, the tour was 4 months long, and International games comprised of 6 Tests and 3 ODIs. Sandwiched between these games were 7 one dayers and 10 3-Dayers against various counties and invitational XiS. So, 26 games. Of those games our Test batsmen played in a godo majority of those game (Steve Waugh played the most with 20, followed by Mark with 19, and Taylor, Healy, kasper, mcGrath with 18, Warnie and Bevo with 17). The tour was about 120 long, with 70 days of cricket.

      • Columnist

        February 6th 2013 @ 10:38am
        Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Sledge, There is certainly enough anecdotal evidence (I recall Glenn Mitchell doing a piece) to suggest that bowlers from the past did a lot more bowling year in year out than our players do now.

        And let’s face it, as Nick mentions below, the best sides simply don’t do it. Pick your best players, and if one of them gets injured, then he’s out. Enough fast bowlers have said that they needed more bowling not less to tune their bodies to the rigours of the sport.

        • February 6th 2013 @ 11:14am
          Russ said | February 6th 2013 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Yep, good example. The 1997 tour was the one where Australia went through so many bowlers Shaun Young got dragged out of nowhere to play in a loss at the Oval. That’s all but two of the first choice team, the squad reserves, and Reiffel who was called up as an injury replacement. Definitely the best way forward.

          • February 6th 2013 @ 12:22pm
            Don Corleone said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            Good point. I remember this…obviously grinding bowlers into the dirt doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

            • Columnist

              February 6th 2013 @ 12:48pm
              Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

              Russ and Don,

              Your both assuming that injuries to quick bowlers can be prevented. If they’ve always happened, and are still happening (seemingly at an even greater rate now than before), then it may just be that this is the way it is.

              That being the case, play the best until they get injured and replace them accordingly.

              • February 6th 2013 @ 1:18pm
                Russ said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

                Cameron, have you read any of the science? Or at least some of the articles by Dan Brettig, who has had the foresight to go and speak to the relevant people. Or if you prefer, this Grantland article on Strasburg explains the problems cricket faces in the baseball context.

                No sports scientist says injuries can be prevented. None. There is a baseline rate of injury that is always present. Fast bowling is hard. Some players have a much higher facility for long and frequent spells than others. Some players just won’t be able to deal with any amount of workload. In between, there are a really large number of players who should be managed better than “run them into the ground then pick someone new”. You can’t prevent injuries, but you can highlight the types of workloads that will cause injuries.

                And it is in the team’s interest to prevent them for several reasons:
                1) They are the most valuable members of the team – bowlers are what wins you matches. Hughes barely played again after the ’93 Ashes, McDermott after his workload across ’92. It didn’t matter then because Fleming, McGrath, Kaspa, Bichel, Reiffel and Julian were in the wings. But it did matter, a lot, when Clark, Gillespie, and Lee barely played after they turned 30.

                2) Playing the 4th,5th and 6th best bowler at the end of the series will result in lost matches. There is a world of difference between resting a player for a couple of games and losing them for 6 months or longer. Players become more vulnerable to injury after injury. They also become less effective. Playing less often for a longer period is a lot better than playing a lot then never again.

                3) Young bowlers are several times more vulnerable. Running a young bowler into the ground and potentially ruining their career means you are only playing with bowlers who can deal with large workloads. That lowers the quality of the side. Not to mention, it is also repugnant to deal with the livelihood of players in such a cavalier fashion.

                You stated above that workloads haven’t increased. if you read the science you are so critical of you’d realise that is not what the sports scientists argue is the problem. The pattern of workload is the critical factor. Players get injured when they are tired. In times past long tours consisted of a lot of 3-day tour games where players could bowl 10 overs a day. Now, and ODI/T20 cricket is a problem, the pattern is short periods of intense load (back-to-back tests) where even if not injured they develop micro-tears and then periods of lower loads that lower conditioning, depending on training.

                With what the sports scientists know about the pattern of injuries. Test cricket will cause injuries, full stop. There is no way to condition most bowlers to bowl 20+ overs a few days apart without them being at high risk of developing injuries in the subsequent period. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some management that could be used to lower injury rates, particularly young bowlers (the load Cummins jumped to in the Shield final and South Africa was flat out abuse). But the risks will remain.

                The long-term solution will be substitutes – play the 1st/2nd innings, sub out for someone else in the 3rd/4th. Some players, in their late 20s, with good injury histories will be able to play both, depending on the load in a particular game. Even then there will be injuries, but a reduction wouldn’t hurt. As a fan, I’d much rather watch Malinga, Harris, Cummins, Pattinson, Bond, etc. for one innings than not at all, for injury or their common sense on what they can shoulder.

              • February 6th 2013 @ 1:27pm
                jameswm said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

                Nah Russ I don’t want to see us moving to subs during a test. That feels wrong.

                However, identifying micro tears and avoiding injury is important, and what the AFL teams are very good at. Identify the periods of higher injury risk.

                Take Ryan Harris – I’d take him to the Ashes, even if he can only play 2 of the 5 tests because of his dodgy knees. Pattinson or one of the others can be rested for a test, especially where there are back to back ones. Fresh bowlers are better than tired ones, or ones with niggles.

                I just hope common sense prevails, and I also hope that the Aussie cricket physios etc now what they’re doing.

              • Columnist

                February 6th 2013 @ 1:57pm
                Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                Russ,

                I have openly admitted that I don’t know the ins and outs of sports science, because these mystery men are always shrouded in secrecy, no doubt too busy monitoring loads, counting footsteps and coming up with new theories to adequately explain their existence.

                Did you not read where I propose the resting of test players from shorter forms, and the suggestion of not allowing them to play T20 altogether, which pre-empts your mystery “pattern of workload”?

                I’m just looking down the list of fast bowlers to have taken over 200 test wickets, almost all of whom have played in the era since ODI’s began (and let’s not forget for a long time in this country, the ODI’s and test matches were played concurrently).

                If the new age thinking is to be believed, it’s a wonder any of them were able to play more than five or six tests in their career.

              • February 6th 2013 @ 2:09pm
                Russ said | February 6th 2013 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

                Cam, there is nothing mysterious about sports science. CA has online whole conference proceedings that they fund. The papers are published in journals. You can read them online via a library membership to any state library. You can tweet and ask the scientists to send their papers to you. The exact details of how the Australian team is managed are different, but then the Australian team is managed to win, and to play certain matches, not just prevent injuries. No sports scientist is out there recommending back-to-back tests or switching from a T20 competition to a test series on a week’s notice. But it still happens.

                Rotation out of T20 or ODI won’t necessarily prevent injuries at all. A good pattern of workload is the same amount week-in, week-out. A bad pattern is 4 overs spells for four weeks then 20 overs or more in a day or two. Recovery after the intense load helps, but studies indicate that recovery time might be as long as a month. That won’t happen.

                Players play more test cricket now, so the list of 200+ wicket bowlers is skewed to the present. But moreover, you can’t measure career length and say injuries are increasing or decreasing. Australia can only ever play their best XI. If that is four machines able to handle the workload, then they’ll have long careers. If it is a mixture of carefully managed players who can’t deal with the workload and machines then the stats will show shorter, more injury-prone careers. Apples and oranges.

              • February 6th 2013 @ 2:34pm
                rl said | February 6th 2013 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                Cameron – “mystery men shrouded in secrecy” will be one of my favourite Roar quotes so far this year!

          • February 6th 2013 @ 2:13pm
            rl said | February 6th 2013 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

            Cameron – while I don’t deny that bowlers of days gone may well have bowled higher volumes, they also spent their time between overs standing at fine leg doing absolutely bugger-all. Look at Courtney Walsh or Angus Fraser – both players of unbelievable longevity, both complete spectators in the field.

            Today’s quicks need to be dynamic in the field, constantly in motion, hurling themselves around the field like a soccer goalie. I know its in the shorter forms of the game, but look at the starting heart rate of some of the bowlers – they are in the 120-140 BPM range before they start an over. I’d be surprised if Courtney ever topped 50 BPM! (unsurpassed in his “efficiency of effort” in the outfield)

            I think that must have some impact in how tired our guys get at the end of each day’s play and, as Russ suggests, increases their susceptibility to injury (wear and/or tear).

            • Columnist

              February 6th 2013 @ 3:08pm
              Cameron Rose said | February 6th 2013 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

              Good point RL, there is no doubt we expect more of our players in the field during limited overs matches. Perhaps another reason why we should have more long and short form specialists, rather than trying to put the same players into all three forms as often as we can.

              • February 6th 2013 @ 3:47pm
                rl said | February 6th 2013 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

                and in the tests mate – I was at the Gabba test and Clarkie was not well pleased when Pattinson was taking a (weel earned) breather at fine leg and didn’t move in quick enough to field a ball. Gave him a look that would have done Allan “Captain Grumpy” Border proud!

          • February 7th 2013 @ 5:33am
            lou said | February 7th 2013 @ 5:33am | ! Report

            Russ, I applaud your effort here. But I can’t see it taking you far on the Roar!

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