Overtraining in cricket – a plea for an off season

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We’ve written a rather hefty piece for Cricinfo about overtraining in cricket. We think it’s a big deal, but we get the distinct impression that no-one else really does.

It’s partly that people don’t really understand the concept. Understandably, they think it just means training too much, but overtraining is actually a label for a physiological condition that tends to come about as a result of a whole range of factors of which physical training stress is just one.

It hinges on whether or not an athlete is ever fully recovering and so it also involves all those little things which have an impact on that.

Most people don’t understand recovery

And this is simply because they don’t live a lifestyle where it’s any kind of an issue. Even if you play a lot of sport in your spare time, chances are you’re still in overall credit when it comes to recovery. You might struggle in one particular week, but it’s not something that persists for a month or a year.

An alternative title for the Cricinfo article could have been ‘a plea for an off season’ because it strikes us that international cricket seems to be actively courting overtraining. The way the sport is run seems specifically geared towards hampering recovery, enhancing mental stress and most importantly of all, engineering a situation where players define themselves by their performance. When you reach that point, things really get out of hand.

Jonathan Trott

While speaking to Dr Richard Winsley for the article, we pointed out what happened to Jonathan Trott. Thinking about what Trott had said at the start of the summer, about how he’d basically lost the ability to switch off, it struck us that this might be an example of overtraining. Winsley agreed to the extent that he is now going to use Trott as a case study.

If the Trott example tells us anything, it is that such an implosion has no single cause. Rather, it is a perfect storm of multiple, related factors. It is also pretty clear that the environment inhabited by international cricketers is one where such an outcome is increasingly likely.

An extraordinary proportion of a modern international cricketer’s time is spent with colleagues. Have you ever been on a work night out and been struck by how much you talk about the job? Imagine that all day every day. It’s not healthy. People need balance. Now imagine that this environment is all you’ve known for your entire adult life and then suddenly, in your early thirties, it’s gone. How would you adapt to that?

Fred bowled more overs

Measuring bowlers’ workloads in terms of overs is reductive. There’s far more to overtraining than that. England are playing at least one match a month from November of this year until September 2017, so anyone playing multiple formats is rarely going to be more than a week away from another flight and another hotel.

There’s an awful lot appended to a modern international over, whereas a 1950s county over is delightfully unencumbered. They’re not equal.

They’re well paid

This is the most infuriating argument of all – that players should stop moaning because it’s their job and most people would love to be in their position.

Firstly, most people would love to be in their position simply because most people are idiots and only imagine themselves raising their bat or holding aloft a trophy. Nobody plays a game for a living, because as soon you do, it ceases to be a game.

The reality is that you spend years building towards something that might be taken away from you in an instant by a slight divot or a dodgy call. You then get to spend endless hours ruminating on it. The cricket in the middle’s the tiniest fraction of your time and the majority is spent trying to address all your myriad flaws.

Whose problem is it?

The second rebuttal to the ‘they should just bloody well get on with it’ argument is that this is precisely what they are doing. It’s not generally the players who are suffering the most – it’s us, the fans. Most people who read this website – obsessive cricket people, for the most part – would be more than happy to see far fewer games being played. They’d love to see more fast bowling and fewer meaningless fixtures.

Players and coaches are just getting on with it, but that isn’t to say that everything’s fine. Rotation’s pitched as being a cure-all, but that assumes there is someone in charge who can enforce it. Is that the head coach, who needs his best players, the player fighting for his spot, or some sort of head medical officer keen to become a lightning rod for disappointed fans’ hatred?

Fatigue accumulates over time, but as often as not a decent period of rest sees it dissipate. A defined off season would be no bad thing.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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    1. One of our friends has today expressed grave displeasure at how long it’s been since a Cricinfo commenter said “don’t give up the day job” to us.

    2. Seeing as your day job is writing articles for publication, that phrase has now become one of high praise.

    3. A new comment says, “Counting number of times Uhhm was more interesting then the whole article.” Does that count?

  1. Off season… In the age of the IPL? Not a cat-in-hell’s-chance of that happening I think.

    You talk a lot of sense (more in 1 article than put together in all your lighter blogs) but it is like “who will bell the cat” really?

    1. Speaking of cats, we need more of them being indifferent to cricket.

      Speaking of cricket, come on you Bears.

    2. A lot of foxes are indifferent to cricket.

      Strange animals, foxes. Quite often they abandon their families and transform into bears. Quite often they become outlaws. I’ve even heard of one that, preposterously, turned into a falcon.

      The opposite is true, of course. But the animals that turn into foxes tend to be old and knackered, have been turfed out of their homes and are looking for one last meal.

  2. It’s an excellent article for sure, no doubt about it. And it’s almost probably true as well, which only adds to its excellence. However, I was struck by the fact that it wasn’t written in an obscure poetic metre. I’ve fixed that for you.

    Is not the same
    As overt raining

    That hiatus
    Gives the phrase
    A whole new status

    Mike Gatting
    Might get rained on
    While he’s batting

    So as a batter
    Might be subject
    To the latter

    But, re the former,
    He’d stop his training
    As he got warmer

    And then he’d make
    His way inside
    To have some cake

    As known by Gatt
    It’s worse to be
    Worn out than fat

    A fact forgot
    By Cook et al
    When breaking Trott

    This news could spell
    Another look at
    Sam Patel

    But just a sec
    We need to think
    About the cheque

    We might applaud
    The fine restraint
    Of one like Broad

    Whose modest munch
    Won’t break the bank
    For tea and lunch

    But you’ll be faced
    (For those who have
    A larger waist)

    With bills much higher
    Than what you had
    For slim Matt Prior

    For all this stuff
    Some extra pence
    Is not enough

    There’s way more cost in
    Lunch and tea for
    Ian Austin

    1. Glad to see someone pick up on my “where is Ian Austin when you need him” comment the other day.

      And hardly by a circuitous route at all, Bert.

      Magic stuff.

    2. A new gold standard hereby has been set
      For KC comments. Well done, user Bert.
      Your splendid poem, I’ll not soon forget,
      Though aping it may cause my brain to hurt.

    3. Indeed, Balladeer,
      Verse writing can make one feel a little queer.

      Tis hard to rate the weight or girth diameter,
      Of Ian Austin, in iambic pentameter.

    4. Ged Ladd, I think that I would disagree.
      His weight hovers around umpteen kg,
      And girth is evident for all to see.

      Iambic pentameter works for me!

    5. Kg Balladeer,
      Oh dear!
      Please chime in about our national treasures,
      Using only imperial measures;
      Inches and feet for the girth circumference rounds;
      Mass in stones and pounds.
      We’re all for eclectic,
      But not metric.

    6. So this is all too meta
      to be allowed to continue
      unharmed, by the vampiric
      critics of critical criticism.
      Please stand down. There are
      too many metres, you’re going
      to attract people who are critical,
      then they’ll transform into critics,
      being some weird species of Vortex,
      and then the poet would have to
      go back in time to solve the issues
      pressing on the modern subconsciousness
      such as they are. ‘Select one fast bowler,
      three leg-spinners, four military
      medium pace bowlers – they’re popular
      or so I hear – and two all-rounders
      and Chris Read, and then you should have
      etc. etc.’ says the ghazalist, followed by,
      ‘He says I write a bad line. But I’m actually
      a leg-spinner. And this is just a draft, of course,
      the final version would be more critical and indifferent
      to cricket, in accordance with Mir Sauda’s example in
      ‘Mir Sauda Being Conspicuously Indifferent to Cricket,’ a
      famous document.’ (This is a reference to Darren Sammy’s
      famous review of Metallica and Lou Reed?’s ‘Lulu,’ which was
      negative.) ‘Pretty much leave the poetry thing to Ged,’
      says a reviewer of this very poem, but they like Soundgarden.
      ‘Hail the coming dawn of English cricket,’ says Alex Hales,
      and finds that Steven Finn had said it first (says the hypocritical local monarch), but in the end it’s
      a continued domination which is not adulterated by misguided
      attempts to replace Chris Jordan, because as an old poet once had said
      unto The People, ‘When one non-aggressive English team is overthrown
      then it turns out that another one exists! It’s totally like King Arthur.’

      Their enthusiasm was derided, but has not always been misplaced.

    1. This website does supply
      A button to reply
      Before you all suggest it
      I really should have pressed it

    2. A rum do,
      And more than a little revealing;
      Even Bert can occasionally succumb to,
      Over-zealous appealing.

  3. As a counterpoint, in Olympic weightlifting circles, it is often pointed out that the coach of the Bulgarian national team, Abedeev, basically had his athletes train the snatch and C&J everyday for hours. The theory being mastering technique this way would make the best athlete, and would also lead to adaptation. In full disclosure though, many of these athletes tested positive for roids, so there’s that. But many weightlifting circles do espouse this overreaching philosophy, almost brushing on overtraining. I like the example of weightlifting because it is a sport where physical stressors are maximal. I am highly skeptical that cricketers suffer loss of form because of frequency of play, but you do have a good point about how this can affect someone mentally. I have no frame of reference there, so can’t comment.

    1. Yes, overreaching is very much part of the training process. It becomes overtraining when the athlete doesn’t or cannot allow sufficient recovery time.

      Adaptation basically works the same way whether you’re talking weight lifting, aerobic training or whatever. You stress your body and then, when you rest, it will adapt and get stronger (or more efficient).

      Immediately after the training stress, your performance will be worse. It only rebounds while you rest. If you train again too soon, you won’t have improved and could even be worse.

      You can stack up training to form a block lasting several days – conceivably even weeks, depending what is being trained. This results in a greater training load and you may see even bigger gains, but again this requires a period of rest and when there’s been greater training stress, you need a longer period of rest in which to adapt.

      We don’t know the Abadjiev method all that well, but thanks for highlighting it. We’ll have a read now. From what we can tell, despite how insane it sounds, the level of training stress was very, very carefully managed to ensure the athletes could always recover.

      Regarding weightlifting being a sport where physical stressors are maximal, we’d emphasise that only some physical stressors are maximal. For example, a 250km bike ride will challenge energy reserves in a way weightlifting never will.

    2. One other point regarding Abadjiev’s method – overtraining is an individual thing. Some can cope with more than others. We daresay the Bulgarian weightlifting academy of that time burnt through quite a lot of athletes who couldn’t cope with the approach. Not sure anyone wants cricket to be a last man standing kind of thing.

    3. That was a hastily written post just before going to bed. Let me clarify that I really liked your cricinfo article, and this discussion needs to be had. Hopefully, your piece would open up the discussion forums. I still remain unconvinced that this is an issue in cricket (from a purely physical view point), but would gladly change my opinion if research tells me otherwise.

      My view essentially is this: overtraining certainly exists, but most people (even including professional cricketers) do not come close to this point. Matt Perryman, a very smart blogger whose writing largely influences my opinion, has penned a few pieces that might be worth your while:
      I recommend the last three under “Daily Squatting and Recovery Issues”. In fact, some of what you say resonates with what he writes, I think (CNS fatigue etc.).

      This debate also rages on in the bodybuilding community. I was particularly interested in an example proffered by one Chad Waterbury. The brothers who do the show Cirque du Soleil indulge in remarkable feats of physical strength – doing about a dozen shows a week, and spending the mornings practicing. By all “accepted” dogma, they should be overtained and be a wreck. The opposite is true. My point is, the human body is capable of adaptation to a remarkable degree and we often underestimate it. It might be true that certain fast bowlers might get CNS fatigue after a few weeks of work in a gruelling test series, but there’s no way this could be true for the rest. The physical stress just isn’t optimal for overtraining to set in.

      Whether the Trotts and the Trescothicks would’ve fared better with a less busy schedule is an interesting one. My view, which sounds rather mean, is no. But we need to study this better.

    4. Thanks for the link. One thing we’d say is that most of what’s written focuses on weightlifting which is almost always an anaerobic activity whereas the term is just as commonly used for a prolonged period of underperformance in aerobic activities. Doubtless the mechanisms causing this to happen are rather different (muscular or central nervous system fatigue versus glycogen depletion, say) but it still happens.

      One of the things that’s so interesting about cricket as a physical sport is that it combines all sorts of aerobic and anaerobic strains and stresses. Do they work together to produce an overtrained state or they entirely separate?

      Regarding Trott and Trescothick, we’re not too sure about the latter, but from what we’ve read about the former, we’re fairly certain he would have fared better with a less hectic schedule. He certainly has obsessive tendencies which were fed by the schedule and the expectations placed upon him (by both himself and others). A bit more balance in his life with the occasional month spent without cricketers surrounding him 24/7 could have made the difference.

      The key with the Trott situation and with cricket in general is that it’s less of a physical thing and more an accumulation of all sorts of different stresses of which physical stress is just one. It all contributes to the overall load and then different individuals will break, or deteriorate, in different ways.

  4. So is overtraining the reason Botham got his old chap out? Or is that still only explicable as gross cretinism.

    1. Nah, it was a protest against the IPL. Botham’s starting up his own IPL in protest – the International Penis League.

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