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Preventing Long Term Back Injury as a Seam Bowler

Seldom do cricketers go onto the field of play devoid of any form of niggle or ache. A tight hamstring becomes more prevalent as players reach the twilight of their careers, but what about that lower back pain that has gotten slowly worse over the past couple of seasons? Back pain that has been caused by a poor and unsafe bowling action gone ‘undiagnosed’ in the winter nets and has been allowed to manifest itself as something that has become the norm.

Bowling with an unsafe action is all too common, and in a young bowler can lead to some very nasty injuries. Stress fractures of the lower back will seriously reduce the duration of a bowling career, especially when bowling too much during the ‘growth’ years. More importantly though, you will still have to live with your back when the cricket is over. But what quality of life will it leave? 

All bowlers should have safe actions, but as we know, everybody is different and during a season you get to see many wild and wonderful bowling styles. Whilst this can be highly entertaining, a twisted knee or back problem for the individual is not. You would hope that a coach would diagnose a mixed or unsafe action, but what happens if during club nets there is no designated coach. If you are unsure, ask a teammate to watch you and then follow the guide below on safe/mixed actions. 

As a coach, I would always look for the position of the back foot on contact first. It will generally be easier to change the top half of an action if the hips, shoulders and back foot do not align rather than try to get the bowler to land with the back foot in a different position. A bowler will normally land with their back foot pointing down the wicket, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the return crease or parallel to the return crease. Taking a line from shoulder to shoulder and from hip to hip, to reduce the risk of injury to back, hip or knee, these two lines need to be close to parallel and at 90 degrees to the heel/toe line through the back foot position on the floor.

In the diagram below, the first three images show safe classic actions highlighting the position of the feet on the crease, head and shoulders (which we assume align with the hips). The two images on the right show actions which can potentially cause harm to back, hips and knees. You only need to stand in these positions to feel the pressure on the knee and into the groin.

©Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston

When attending a club practice, make it worthwhile. Very often the whole practice is taken up by a net, with bowlers bowling for 50 minutes and if they are lucky will then get a token ten minutes at the end to bat. Why not use your time better and, providing there is ample space, take some time to groove the action, aligning your body based on how your back foot lands. Make your action safe and repeatable. Start by standing on your back foot, in the position that you land. Notice how, with your body now correctly aligned, you feel quite different. Training your brain to accept your upper body in a new position will not happen overnight. Begin walking through, before jogging off a few steps and building slowly to your full run over several sessions. Watch some videos of first class bowlers doing this in their own winter training. If the best bowlers in the world do these simple drills, then they must work!

'Cricket - A Leading Edge' by Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston

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Keep checking that you are not slowly returning to your old action but are keeping the safe alignment of shoulders and hips at 90 degrees to the back foot. Why not record your action? Today, resolution and apps on mobile phones and tablets are perfect for this and using the slow-motion function you will be able to coach yourself too. 

Just remember these two very important rules when bowling pace:

* If feet, hips and shoulders align then you will be fine.  
* If it hurts STOP! 

These coaching tips and many more will be appearing here in our regular blog but also in our up and coming second book; Cricket: A Leading Edge for bowlers which will be released in time for the start of the season.          

© Cricket World & Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston