In his weekly column, John Pryor reflects on the changing nature of injuries and how cricketers and teams deal with them.
The world of cricket was rocked this week by the news that South African wicket-keeper Mark Boucher had announced his retirement from international cricket following a freak injury sustained in a pre-tour warm up match versus Somerset.
Boucher was struck in the eyeball by a bail, dislodged when Imran Tahir bowled Gemaal Hussain; he suffered a lacerated eye, and shortly after undergoing surgery announced his retirement.
A career-ending injury of this type is all the more shocking given the rarity of abrasion injuries in the modern game. Fractured skulls such as that suffered by Bert Oldfield in the 1932-33 bodyline series are a thing of the past.
Protective equipment is so advanced that batsmen are now able to withstand direct blows to the helmet, broken fingers are now a rare occurrence and close fielders even have specially designed shin pads.
This is not to say that modern cricket is a risk-free environment. The volume of international cricket played in the modern era is causing players, particularly pace bowlers, to suffer from a range of career ending injuries which can be linked to the regular stress which is being put on their bodies.
Andrew Flintoff is one of the most famous and talented cricketers to have a career blighted and ended by a series of injuries related to the constant stresses placed on his body by fast bowling. Among Flintoff’s injuries were a broken foot suffered bowling in Cape Town (1999), a back injury (2000), a hernia (2002), a shoulder injury (2003), surgery on the left ankle (2005), further surgery on left ankle (2007) and a career ending torn meniscus in his knee (2009).
Remember Simon Jones? A key member of the English pace bowling quartet which dismantled the Australians in the 2005 Ashes series, with talent and pace to burn, Jones has not featured in Test match cricket since 2005 after a series of ankle and knee injuries. Only this week cricket fans witnessed how fast bowling has the potential to hinder careers when Brett Lee and Shane Watson were forced to return to Australia with calf strains.
Teams are clearly getting wise to the changing nature of injuries caused by the rigorous international schedule. England are using the depth of talent in their squad to rotate and rest key bowlers; Stuart Broad and James Anderson missed the last Test against the West-indies at Edgbaston earlier in the summer.
Similarly, having already won the ODI series against the West Indies with the final fixture at Headingley still to be played, England's selectors opted to rest Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann. This policy has not been without its critics; James Anderson, in his column for a Sunday newspaper, voiced his concerns that injury or loss of form could keep him out of future games, but while he is fit he feels he should be selected.
"It would be different if I felt fatigued or was struggling with an injury. But I believe I am fit to play and while I am fit to play I want to play in every England game I can," he wrote.
Despite Anderson’s concerns, with the most important part of the summer still to come, the Test series versus South Africa where the number one Test ranking will be contested, this is a brilliant and progressive policy which the England selectors are adopting.
In doing so they are demonstrating their ability to adapt to the changing nature of international cricket, placing the team above the individual in an effort to prolong England’s success.
Alongside repetitive strain injuries, depression is becoming increasingly common in the modern era. The most notable cases include Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Michael Yardy and Steve Harmison. It would be inaccurate to argue that international sport causes depression as doctors predict that one in five people are predisposed to emotional disorders, but arguably international sport is increasingly triggering emotional trauma.
One aspect of international cricket which is associated with causing depression is the amount of travelling and spending long periods away from friends and family.
One of the first cricketers to speak openly about his depression was Marcus Trescothick in his award-winning book 'Coming Back To Me.' Trescothick began to suffer in 2005 when his young daughter did not to recognise him after he returned home from a tour of Pakistan; he was convinced that he had ‘let her down by going on tour.’
In 2006, a major breakdown in the team dressing room forced him to leave England’s tour of India; he attributed this to missing his family and worrying that something might happen to them. Michael Yardy and Steve Harmison suffered similar breakdowns following long periods of travel with Yardy forced to return home from the 2011 World Cup.
The long periods of travel are just one aspect of international cricket which have been associated with depression. Andrew Flintoff’s story highlights another. In a documentary about how sports stars cope with depression, Flintoff admitted to being a sufferer, not as a result of the pressure put on him to perform by the media or fans, but by the pressure he put on himself.
Pressure is an obvious part of professional sport, and it is what sportsmen and women at the highest level are paid to cope with. However, with the rising pressure on sports people to perform consistently because of the increased popularity and monetary value of sport, it is no wonder that pressure can eventually become overwhelming.
This, coupled with the travelling demands of modern cricket, means that the association between depression and cricket will continue to grow until the condition is regarded as an injury of the modern era similar to repetitive strain injuries.
The changing nature of injuries in cricket is reflective of the changing medical conditions in contemporary society; with people working longer hours and under increasing pressure, illnesses related to overwork and stress are becoming commonplace.
Cricket has reacted to this in the right way, putting in place programmes to ensure the longevity of players’ careers and offering support for those suffering from mental issues.
© Cricket World 2012