The Challenge of an Injury in Cricket
It indeed was a tragic moment. Dale Steyn, arguably one of the fittest fast bowlers of modern era hobbling out of the picturesque New Lands ground in January ‘2018, against India.
This injury occurred after 14 months of intense and painstaking rehab of his right shoulder. The ankle revolted. A sportsperson, no matter how fit he or she is can never foresee an injury. It remains like the great uncertainty of the game.
Here’s a great turn around. An example how short people’s memory is! The Indian think tank was lavishly extolled in South Africa. They air dashed net bowlers to protect Bhubaneswar Kumar and Bumrah. It was called a master stroke. With both the spearheads breaking down, the same guys are in the firing line in Old Blighty. Remember, Bumrah has a broken finger.
Injury is an integral part of sport. History says from the legendary D.K. Lillee to speed gun’s favourite son Mitchel Starc, it’s a phenomenon that would never cease. Bio-mechanics, research driven strength and conditioning, modern recovery means – nothing could stop injury spoiling the aspiration of many a fast bowlers. Injury robbed the best of talented Ian Bishop of West Indies. Supremely gifted Shane Bond of New Zealand had a perennial back issue in early 2000 that never allowed his career to blossom. Bishop though did not grapple with test, ODI and T-20 cricket. It was only test and ODI.
Reality is – the great uncertainty called injury will keep challenging players and fitness professionals. One can minimise it with scientific approach but can’t rule it out completely. Mashrafi Murtaza of Bangladesh has gone under the scalpel 11 times. The irrepressible lad is still live and kicking in international cricket. Mitchel Starc played only 4 tests in 2018 before breaking down in South Africa with a stress fracture. In the 80’s the gangling Bruce Reid, known as ‘all arms and legs’ used to break down frequently. Starc resembles Reid and will continue to cause head ache to fitness professionals. Lack of muscle in his body will always keep his joints vulnerable.
One small stat: In the IPL Bhubaneswar Kumar bowled 277 balls in 12 matches whereas Bumrah bowled 324 balls in 14 matches. Over a month’s time this is hardly any workload. However, consider the late night finish of the match. Reclining to bed late, getting up early and packing for airport. For a test match you stay at one place for one week. For 14 IPL matches you travel to many destinations in a month within 2-3 days. Recovery is seriously compromised because of this.
However, keeping the IPL load in my mind, at the behest of the think tank, both Bhubi and Bumrah were left out of the test against debutant Afganisthan. In all fairness there was sincere effort to protect them for the test series in England. But then how do you foresee a break down in the musculoskeletal system? You can’t. From Steyn to Bhubi all have to take it in their stride.
Most of the cricket boards have picked the best fixing tool available to minimise injury issues. Glance through the test, ODI and T-20 teams of top nations. Trent Bolt, Kagiso Rabada, Bhubaneswar Kumar, Mitchel Starc (when fit) are a few handfuls whom you will find in all formats. For most nations ODI has one set of bowlers and T-20 has another.
In fact, most boards saw the writing on the wall when Lasith Malinga dropped out of test cricket to focus on cash rich T-20 leagues. Modern cricket won’t see a Wasim Akram who would have 400 wickets in test and 500 in ODIs. It will be mostly one format driven stat. All boards have packed itineraries in future tours programme. To balance that the only option left is to have specialist for each format. That’s the only ploy left to keep players fit.