Which Australian sport produces the greatest athletes? Part Two: Cricket

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    David Warner is one of the most powerful athletes in world cricket. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    Professional cricketers probably don’t come to mind when one thinks of sports that produce the best natural athletes. But the days of David Boon and Shane Warne are gone, and today’s cricketers are expected to perform at elite levels.

    This is particularly true of Australia’s best and brightest. In 2016, Australian captain Steve Smith played 45 games of international cricket, including 11 Tests, that ran for a total of 50 days. Smith, who is the clear number one batsman in the world, according to the ICC Test cricket batting rankings, spent 44 hours at the batting crease and faced 1,837 deliveries from opposition bowlers.

    Smith would have spent multiples of that amount of time in the field, in hostile conditions in Sri Lanka as well as the high temperatures of an Australian summer. He missed last year’s Indian Premier League due to injury which would have added an extra eight weeks to an already hectic year.

    Add to that again the time taken to prepare, train, plan (he is the captain of the team after all) and recover, and is it any wonder that Steve Smith is one of Australia’s highest paid athletes?

    While Smith is one of the busiest cricketers in Australia, the lot of a professional Test cricketer of more middling talents in 2017 is intense. The days of David Boon famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) sinking 52 tinnies on a flight to England or Shane Warne puffing on a cigarette on the Lord’s balcony during play are long gone.

    Australia's David Warner and Steve Smith

    (AFP Photo/Greg Wood)

    Today’s cricketers are genuine athletes.

    As we discussed last when reviewing the profile of an Australian rules footballer, a cricketer’s most unique athletic attribute is the endurance required to play at the highest level. Test cricketers spend not only hours but days on their feet plying their trade in a given match, and over a season that time extends into weeks.

    However, the most common state of performance is not particularly active. The concept of time on legs is important, but as elite rugby league coach, Rohan Smith, pointed out when we discussed the athleticism of cricketers, the most significant element of endurance is “concentration, decision making and skill execution.”

    It’s why Australian rules came out on top in this assessment.

    But this is an important attribute to keep in mind while discussing a cricketer’s most significant point of difference. Cricket is a power game, when we define power as how explosive a player is required to be over and above a resting state.

    “Almost every activity in cricket is power based,” said Rohan.

    “Think about it; sprinting to field, diving to stop a ball on the boundary, leaping for a sharp catch, running between the wickets, shot-making, bowling, throwing. The list goes on.”

    Rohan’s not wrong. Mitchell Johnson, Australia’s formerly fearsome fast bowler and ICC cricketer of the year, wore a GPS tracker on the first day of the Boxing Day Test in 2013. The data revealed that, while he travelled 23 kilometres over the 6.5 hours of play, he completed 144 sprints – 127 of those would have been the balls delivered by Johnson as a bowler, and the remainder as a fielder.

    Johnson’s sprinting efforts are quite extraordinary. The maximum speed he was clocked at was 33.1 kilometres per hour, reached as he was fielding a ball on the MCG boundary rope. For context, Usain Bolt’s average speed during his world record-breaking 100-metre sprint was 36.7 kilometres per hour.

    It’s a similar story for batsmen, who are capable of striking a ball over 80 metres in the air with half a second to react from the point of delivery.

    Glenn Maxwell hits a six

    (AFP/Theo Karanikos)

    According to an academic study in the Nature Neuroscience journal, a batsman has to judge the timing of a shot to within three milliseconds (three one-thousandths of a second) to hit it optimally. It makes the consistent striking of David Warner seem even more superhuman.

    A lot of what happens on a cricket field is about timing and concentration. But a heap is centred on an ability to go from zero to 100 with limited time to prepare or react.

    However, the football codes are superior across the other facets of athletic performance. Cricketers are required to be agile, but this typically centres on specific acts in the field rather than the ‘always on’ agility of 360-degree sports like Australian rules and soccer.

    And while plenty is made of the time Australia’s best cricketers spend in the gym, I’d hazard a guess 140-kilogram Waratah and Wallaby lock Will Skelton would dominate the entire Australian XI in consecutive arm wrestling duels.

    “A cricketer would have several sessions in the gym in a typical week versus 5-6 sessions for a rugby union player,” said Rohan. “Union players focus on building strength and muscle mass, while cricketers are mostly concerned with stability, balance and power.”

    Key Information

    Ryan and Rohan are making these judgments based on the highest level of domestic competition in each of the sports – except for cricket, where the Australian Test team seems like the more appropriate comparator.

    In this series, each sport will be ranked on key categories. We’ll reveal the final scores and the top sport at the end of the series.

    Endurance: the length of time an athlete is required to perform at their peak, in a game and over the course of a season.
    Power: how explosive an athlete needs to be, in both speed and strength terms, over and above the “resting” state of play.
    Agility: a measure of an athlete’s required evasiveness, ability to change direction and be aware of those around them.
    Speed: how fast is a player required to move around the field, both in sprints and general play.

    Stay tuned for the next instalment when we’ll discuss rugby league.

    The full series
    » Part One: AFL
    » Part Two: Cricket
    » Part Three: Rugby league
    » Part Four: Rugby union
    » Part Five: Football
    » Part Six: Final Results

    This series is sponsored by by POWERADE, fuelling rivalry through the POWERADE POWERSCORE. The Powerade Powerscore, developed in conjunction with the New South Wales Institute of Sport, allows you to compare yourself to mates and elite athletes.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • Roar Guru

      June 12th 2017 @ 8:37am
      Rellum said | June 12th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      I would much rather them be cricketers, focusing on skills than beep tests, pressure mats or vertical leaps. Boonie and Warnie still managed to spend long days in the field for just as many games, batting for longer and bowling just as many or more overs. Cricket is a sill based games with a short burst or power and agility.

      I not issue with them working on power and agility, bowlers working on flexibility and durability(something I think they are going about the wrong way) but not at the expense of the skills practice need to embed those skills.

      • June 12th 2017 @ 4:12pm
        Mango Jack said | June 12th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

        It’s similar in rugby these days. They can all bench press a house and smash beep tests but struggle to catch and pass.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 12th 2017 @ 9:50am
      josh said | June 12th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Symonds (during his playing days) as my pick to represent cricket in this contest.

    • June 12th 2017 @ 10:12am
      Brainstrust said | June 12th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Its not endurance to stand around in a test match, waiters will do that every week.
      Mental fatigue would come into it, some players though bat without a care in the world , and dream away in the field so it would vary.
      Cricket is a sport where the level of activity varies greatly between different players, also depending on the format.
      The players that expend the most energy in the field are the fast bowlers.
      Its not just the length of the run up the delivery stride takes an enormous amount of energy and puts stress on the body.
      If a fast bowlers isn;t fit then they will struggle when bowling multiple overs, while you can still force them to bowl them they lose pace and spray it around. . The least fit faster bowler was the allrounder Kallis , because he was an allrounder he could get away with short spells but there is no way you would pick a fast bowler in test cricket who cannot bowl at least 5 over spells as a specialist.
      Where one day cricket really changed the physical requirements is in batting and running between the wickets.
      In test cricket the scoring rate is slower, few batsman in the deep to stop boundaries, and the margins on running are on the ultra safe side.
      Dean Jones was the player who made one day batting a real endurance activity, while there were a lot of fast runners between wickets, Jones took it one step farther in that he was running hard on every single run and even backing up when there was no run to put pressure on the fieldsman to get them to hurry and force mistakes. This was adopted then by the Australian team in general and was the factor that got them the one day world cup in 1987. SO being fit and fast as a middle order one day batsman became more important.
      This then translates back to the fielding, in that you would start looking for the least athletic players in the field knowing you could still a single or run two off them. Australia even took this to test cricket when playing the World 11 Australia milked the suprising choice of Inzuman and Kallis together in the covers.
      Boon and Warne might have been portly but they weren;t poor athletes. Boon once he lost some speed was left out of the one day side, in test cricket though its catching ability that is more important than athletic fielding so Boon extended his test career because he was so valuable catching at short leg and players rarely want to field there. Dean Jones on the other hand, Australian new concentration was on fielding so they had a lot of athletic bastman younger than Jones to take his place.

      • Roar Guru

        June 12th 2017 @ 1:22pm
        Rellum said | June 12th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

        I would suggest keepers work much harder than fast bowlers. They are doing a power squat every ball then running up and down to the wicket if the fielders are pinning it into the stumps. Fast bowlers of course work hard and put loads of stress on their bodies.

        Tubby Taylor was also not exactly an athletic specimen but he was one of Australia’s greats fieldsmen as he was a gun slipper. One of the best ever, That is a skill that is being lost to the game with T20 cricket and power hitting, flat pitches and rules to reduce the “strike zone” changing field settings to be more about stopping boundaries than anything else. If T20 does become the dominate form of the game close catches will disappear and that extreme athleticism require to catch in those areas will go.

        There will be more emphasis on players like Warner who are fast over the ground to cover more outfield areas.

        • June 12th 2017 @ 7:25pm
          BrainsTrust said | June 12th 2017 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

          Wicketkeeping would be tiring, and get the body very sore but would it rely on fitness.
          The effort is spread out whereas a fast bowler concentrates their effort over a spell.
          If close in catching dies off as a skill, then that opens the way for those who concentrate on it to get selected ahead of others in test cricket.
          T20 I think because the ball it being hit all round the place instead of stealing short singles around point and mid wicket the value of a top fielder is less. Taylor lacked in scoring rate and hitting ability. If one day dies off and test cricket and T20 remains then the big hitters of old who matched their power with a big waistline could make a comeback.Certainly one day cricket is the most athletic format.

          • Roar Guru

            June 13th 2017 @ 10:18am
            Rellum said | June 13th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

            I can’t see people being able to specialize in a skill that won’t be use if T20 takes over from both test and ODI cricket. If Test cricket does survive as a professional version then the other thing to consider is that international players play very little FC cricket so they get little opportunity to get game experience at close catching like they used to. Right now only Smith and maybe Renshaw are good enough at it to be in the slips cordon, and they are not as good as the guys who came before. It is a skill that is dying out. Matty Rehnshaw is a breath of fresh air in the way he goes about his game as he is a specialist slipper. Look at Gully, that was a specialist position that was required regularly that is not used much if at all anymore. And that was a spectacular place to field.

            Disagree that one day cricket is the most athletic format, unless you are arguing that the condensed nature of the running. FC is the most exhausting, it just takes so much to keep going for that long period, and the bowlers are required to do much more work in a 50 over period in FC cricket as there are no rules on over limits. Yes there are more dot balls but for bowlers and keepers that doesn’t change much, less running up to the stumps for the keepers. As for spending days in the shed watching people bat, guys/girls do actually spend that time batting and they are in a way recovering from bowling for a whole day previously. Then they are generally back out there the next day which is much less recovery time than a one day series when you get 3-4 day break between games.

    • June 12th 2017 @ 11:12am
      Jeff dustby said | June 12th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      This article should have a HA next to it

    • June 12th 2017 @ 11:49am
      morebeer said | June 12th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

      How many beers did Rod Marsh drink on the plane to England that time?

      • June 12th 2017 @ 4:15pm
        Mango Jack said | June 12th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

        43 according to legend.

        • June 13th 2017 @ 11:00am
          Sideline said | June 13th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

          Boon’s 52 has him covered. But as the article notes, it’s a different sport these days.

          • June 14th 2017 @ 10:25am
            Evan Askew said | June 14th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

            Doug Walters first set the record for the flight to England in 1977. I think it was 44 cans. Rod marsh beat him by one sinking the last beer as the plane was taxing in on the runaway for the 83 world cup. Noon as it turns out smorgasbord of them. And the 1970s cricket team could give kiss, stones and gnr a run for their money when it comes to alcohol abuse is not in drug abuse.

    • June 12th 2017 @ 11:52am
      Pope Paul VII said | June 12th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

      Mitchy Marsh is the ultimate cricket athlete.

      • June 12th 2017 @ 12:11pm
        Bakkies said | June 12th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        I say someone like Morné Morkel who played Rugby to a high standard as a junior no doubt as a lock where he would have been jumping in the line out, shifting 100 plus kg bodies in rucks, running and scrummaging. Probably played a bit of Basketball too.

        • June 13th 2017 @ 11:42am
          spruce moose said | June 13th 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          Or Jonty Rhodes, who turned down a chance to go to the 1996 Olympics for Hockey.

          Or Punter who was allegedly told to give up cricket to become a professional golfer.

      • June 14th 2017 @ 8:10am
        BurgyGreen said | June 14th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        A big unit, as James Brayshaw would say

        • Roar Rookie

          June 16th 2017 @ 1:32pm
          josh said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

          Levers for arms

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