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CA's injury prevention approach is clearly not working

8th February, 2019
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8th February, 2019
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We learned today that Mitchell Starc will sidelined for an undetermined time with a pectoral injury.

He joins first-choice Test new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood on the sidelines, Hazlewood having missed the series victory over Sri Lanka through injury. Just how effective are contemporary strategies to manage fast bowler’s bodies?

It is frequently reported and discussed that modern fast bowler’s workloads and lifestyles are managed almost to the minute. Their training loads are managed very carefully, how many balls have they bowled in the nets in an hour, a week, a day?

Do they need a rest after recent games? We understand they are asked to rank how they feel today, this week, this month. All of this is presented to us as being designed to manage high performance.

We understand it was designed and implemented primarily for injury prevention. In simple terms, to stop fast bowlers from breaking down, and ensure they are available for national duty each time Australia takes the field.

Starc goes down with a pec injury. Perhaps the high performance unit will now beat themselves up over whether he may have done a crucial extra rep in the gym which made him susceptible to this injury during the Canberra test.

Mitchell Starc of Australia looks on

Mitchell Starc of Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Perhaps all future strength sessions will be reduced by a quarter of one repetition, per month, multiplied by eleven, depending whether the player had honey or banana on his weet-bix that morning. It feels certain that some seismic shifts will happen on the injury prevention and performance management landscape as a result of this latest setback.

Based on current form, these will be overly detailed, ineffective, and do absolutely nothing to improve performance or prevent injuries.

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It is wonderful that we have Pat Cummins fit for the last two years or so, for the first time in his career. His injury interruptions during that time have been relatively minor, although have still cost him test matches.

I am touching every bit of wood in a massive radius as I write, because he seems to be the most exciting, talented, and ethical cricketer we have at present. What a crying shame that he is the only one of the top-line quicks available.

Pat Cummins

Pat Cummins of Australia (Photo by Albert Perez – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

Starc is hurt, Hazlewood is hurt, Jason Behrendorff and Bill Stanlake have had injuries in recent times. The Richardsons seem to be fit at the moment but at present are on the second tier. Ironically Jhye may be moving to the top tier of fast bowlers, due to opportunities gained via injuries.

The most heart-breaking case since, well, since Cummins – is James Pattinson. The firebrand strike bowler has missed years at the top level, to the great dismay of fans at home and abroad. This is a bowler who troubled the very best when he was brand new to international cricket.

In 2011-12, he was brilliant against a stacked Indian batting line-up, taking big hauls and always threatening. Pattinson’s record is imposing – 70 wickets at 26 from just 17 Tests, with four 5-wicket hauls. Injury has reduced Pattinson to a mythical figure, much like Cummins before him. We await his return and feel excited by the prospect of unleashing him on some unsuspecting top order who don’t remember what he is capable of.

James Pattinson bowls for Australia

James Pattinson bowls for Australia. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

Yet he is 29 this year, seems to be out of the Ashes conversation, and the clock ticks on what could have been a brilliant career up to now. We can only hope and pray that this fine talent may yet have a run of good luck that allows him to reach his enormous potential.

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All of the above has happened in the era of high performance units and microscopic management of workloads and training schedules and food intakes. It is frightening to think of the collective total of missed Test matches sustained during this period.

If you based this analysis on picking the top XI over the last ten years, and then taking out players who were unavailable through injuries, the number of missed test matches would be enormous, particularly among fast bowlers.

This gets around to the question of whether the current approach is working. Are we seeing any benefit from the way we are managing fast bowler’s workloads and their training schedules? Skills may be suffering due to a lack of bowling practise, but the injuries continue.

If we accept that fast bowling is a physically demanding trade and comes with injury risk, we accept that it is nonsensical to aim for no injuries to elite fast bowlers. However can we also accept that perhaps it is time to seek some additional learning about this field and contemplate a different approach?

Plenty of retired fast bowlers will tell you that they built their resilience against the injury risk by simply bowling a lot.

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At the same time, they learned more skills and were able to employ a trial and error approach in a training environment, or even in Shield cricket, to understand the impact of different grips, arm positions, feet positions, run-ups, and positions on the crease. How much of this is possible when bowlers are limited to a certain number of balls per session, day, or month?

If the bowling limits were shown to be successful in reducing injuries and making our elite talent available to represent Australia, it would be easier to accept the approach.

Surely the Starc and Hazlewood injuries mean it is finally time to at least review the current injury management approach. All of the evidence says it is simply not working to reduce the incidence of injury, what do we have to lose by trying something else?

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