Being stupidly fit is one of the greatest attributes a fast bowler can have. Accuracy and the ability to seam or swing the ball are entry requirements. Beyond that, you elevate yourself above your rivals by making the most of those strengths for longer.
So many backs
Fitness is even more important in these days of back-to-back-to-back Tests. Over the course of a series, bowlers have little time to recover and a 30-over stint in the first Test can end up having an impact on the outcome of the fourth Test.
England know this. They plan accordingly. They have about six fast bowlers who they’re happy to call upon so that they can keep their attack fresh, but they also ensure that their main guys are as fit as can be.
We always use James Anderson as our example. His bowling at the end of the day is generally not that inferior to that in his opening spell, which isn’t true of all pace bowlers. It’s common for people to think of players as being machines with set qualities, but their performance ebbs and flows according to how tired they are, as well as according to the vagaries of form. Indeed ‘form’ isn’t disconnected from fitness.
England v India
In a longer series, every hour your team is batting in earlier Tests is an investment for later on. (This might even be one of the major reasons why Jonathan Trott was identified as a potential Test match batsman.)
In this England v India series, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma have been forced to send down 235 overs in the first two Tests, versus 176 from Anderson and Broad. Playing four bowlers and suffering injuries to key players has added to the workload of the Indian pair, but the reasons don’t really matter. The effect does.
Sharma seems fit and Kumar has a certain economy of effort, so maybe this won’t tell, but we’ll be interested to monitor whether it does. We’d guess this is exactly the kind of thing that Andy Flower thinks about when plotting each series.
We often value players according to how they play when they’re at their best, but what really matters is being better than your opponent at each particular moment, even when you’re both knackered.