Fast bowling like throwing a javelin, but 100 times a day
Fast bowling brings the highest risk of injury in cricket and helping a bowler to be physically and mentally capable of repeatedly delivering pace, skill and precision requires a balance of coaching, conditioning and medical expertise.
Over the past decade the act of bowling fast has been a factor in at least 50 per cent of “time-loss” injuries (where matches or training are missed) in the domestic game. While cricket does not suffer from the wider injury toll of contact sports, fast bowling owns a set of common and unique injuries that make it the focus of science and medical teams around the world.
Stress fractures of the lumbar spine, side strains and posterior ankle injuries are issues that often can sideline a player for months and there is no quick way to come back from them. You cannot cheat time when allowing stress fractures to heal and harden before resuming one of the most brutal movements in sport.
Searching for extreme pace puts huge levels of stress through the body. Forces of up to nine times a player’s bodyweight are observed when the front foot hits the crease and sends an impact back through the body. As well as the impact, bowling is an unnatural movement, especially with the overlay of high force. That is why lumbar stress fractures and side strains are relatively common.
Javelin throwers use the same catapult-style action, putting similar strains on the body, but they do not have to produce more than a hundred competitive throws in a day. Serving in tennis is a similar action but is performed from a stable base, without the 12mph run-up and with far lower levels of impact going through the body as the server lands.
In the domestic game bowlers can be involved in matches on about 100 days of the six-month season. That’s several hundred overs and thousands of repetitions in which the body is exposed to immense stress — and that’s without considering the preparation, training and bowling in nets.
Regular practice is important for bowlers to hone their skill and rhythm but it can mean more injuries if not monitored and managed well. So science and medicine not only face the challenge of keeping fast bowlers “on the park” but managing the inevitable injuries that will come when a player bowls often and at great pace.
• Ben Langley is the men’s medical services lead at the ECB