Bowling fitness for a modern Test series

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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.


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  1. Anderson bowled 213.1 overs in the Ashes in Australia. The back-room staff worked it out that with bowling in the nets and warm up matches out there it came to about 500 overs.

  2. “It’s common for people to think of players as being machines with set qualities..”

    Now, now, no one thinks that.

    Good point about comparative fitness, though. It might indeed have an effect as the series goes on, but the dynamic might change if Zaheer is fit to play.

    Cricket, as a sport, places less emphasis on physical fitness. We are still under the 1980’s thought process in this regard – that letting athletes do weight training might make them bulky and slower. I am not sure about England, but I am willing to bet good money that the Indian players’ “gym work” would consist of some sissy steady state cardio on a treadmill. Strength training should be made mandatory for cricketers – improves overall physical fitness remarkably.

    1. Okay, most people are aware that a player’s performance varies, but they still tend to put more emphasis on what that player’s like when he’s at his best when evaluating him. That’s what gets the attention.

      It’s more that people underestimate the impact of fatigue because it isn’t as much fun to talk about as pace or reverse swing.

  3. True, but then again, a man should indeed be judged by the best of his works.

    My point is that fatigue in players can be substantially minimized by developing an individual-specific conditioning program. All one has to do to evaluate fitness in cricket is to compare, say, Zaheer’s physique with someone from “the sport that shall not be named”.

    1. Well, we say that a cricketer should be judged by the net effect of his works. That’s our point really.

      But a lot of cricketers are surprisingly fit and as for weight training, the English are mental about it. Matt Prior actually took the decision to become less massive a year or so ago, because he was all cumbersome. The batsmen are all quite ‘built’ and have you SEEN Chris Tremlett?

      Think of Shane Watson as well, a man with huge eye-catching muscles but little in the way of useful musculature until he moved to his crazy super-fast light-weight Tabata training regime.

      Some teams place a lot of emphasis on physical fitness.

    2. The first line is not mine, but Paul Dirac’s – my scientific hero.

      Excellent points about English and Aussie players. As I commented above, I really don’t know much about their fitness programs. I was only speculating about the kinds of programs Indian players possibly go through. I remember Javagal Srinath, an excellent bowler in my opinion, visibly panting after a spell. It is cases like these that deserve attention.

    3. We guessed it was a quote, but in a way it helped us clarify what we were trying to say in the post, so thanks for that.

      Our scientific hero is anyone who understands anything at all to do with science. You guys are amazing.

      Why doesn’t electricity fall out of the socket?

    4. Why doesn’t electricity fall out of the socket?

      “Electricty” can’t live outside special places. A socket is a machine that connects these special places to other things. When something is “plugged” into a socket, an American mass murderer for example, the electricity can spread into the new thing. However, under normal circumstances, it doesn’t.

      I hope that helps.

    1. Life isn’t about enjoying yourself, Ged. It’s about enduring things stoically. That goes for entertainment too. And friendships.

      Life is about putting up with things because not having those things to put up with would be even worse. Even though it doesn’t seem like that most of the time. If ever.

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