Fast bowlers and injuries – A never ending love story of Sri Lanka Cricket

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As a strength and conditioning coach involved in the sport of cricket, the injuries our fast bowlers suffer frequently is something that made me think. 

The Lanka Premier League 2020 is the main reason why I started gathering so much thought about this, as young bowlers like Nuwan Thushara and Lahiru Kumara who have got all the potential to add value to Sri Lanka Cricket suffered a few niggles. 

Time for Sri Lanka to introduce a fast-bowling all-rounder in Tests!

Even though they haven’t had anything major, it’s something that we need to think about and build the system to prevent injuries and lengthen our fast bowlers’ careers. No exemptions for our national squad too. Nuwan Pradeep, who is one of the most skillful bowlers Sri Lanka has ever produced, has had to spend half of his career in rehab and physiotherapy. Another example I could give with the current context is the star bowler Suranga Lakmal who is out of the first Test against the Proteas.

Injury is pretty common in any sport. When it comes to cricket, especially in the pace department it’s almost inevitable. If we look at the overall statistics from Cricket Australia, annual injury rates are 12.5% in Cricket, although fast bowlers averaged 20.6%, which is much higher than other players. Nothing less for Sri Lanka Cricket, the rate of our fast bowlers getting injured is very high too. As a strength and conditioning coach, I found some of the fundamentals issues that lead to many of our fast bowlers getting injured and what we can do to prevent this. 

Who are the best batsmen in the Sri Lankan domestic circuit?

  1. Less importance for strength and conditioning during school career – As most of us know, most cricketers play very competitive cricket at a very young age even though it’s not at the professional level. If we look deeply into Sri Lanka’s school cricket system, those young lads play a very long season, including nationals & big matches at the highest level of competition. But, if we look into their strength and conditioning area, it’s not up to standard to match their cricket. Only a few leading schools have trainers or S&C coaches to help the players deal with demanding physical needs and injury prevention. So, I see this as the biggest threat as most of the injuries are chronic and develop over time. Players who go through injuries at the national level, wouldn’t have gone through the same if the proper movement and pattern correction had been done at the right time. A strength and conditioning coaches’ job is not only developing athletic performance but also injury prevention.
  2. No proper workload management – Another very important area to look into when it comes to injury prevention. Young bowlers are at greater risk and studies show that 47.4% schoolboy bowlers sustain back injuries. The reason for this is the incomplete growth process of young cricketers which clearly shows us the importance of S&C as we discussed in the first point. Also, the same study shows that the cricketers are often being involved in multiple teams for example in Sri Lanka, First-class cricket, MCA, and foreign leagues, etc and workload management of these athletes has been very poor due to lack of availability of the technology at the school and club level. Even though the national cricketers get the luxury of managing their workload during their national camps and training, others who are playing cricket at school and professional level don’t have the luxury to keep them away from injuries. The simplest way to manage bowlers’ workloads is by counting the number of balls bowled per session. A simple spreadsheet with ACWR (Acute: chronic workload ratio) can help to keep the bowlers in the safe zone at the school and club level. Tim Gabbet has shown us the sweet spot for ACWR is 0.8-1.3. 1.5 of ACWR presents an increased risk of sustaining an injury (Gabbet et al 2016). However, this doesn’t mean the player will get injured, it just means they are more at risk. At the international level, teams use GPS technology to even cover the distance bowlers cover and certain other technologies to even monitor strength and conditioning workload to prevent injuries and increase performance.
  3. Proper/corrective movements & patterns – I would love to start with a classic example of one of the great fast bowlers in history James Anderson. He was deemed to have a potentially injurious action shortly after bursting onto the international scene in 2002-03, but he remodeled his action and survived a stress fracture. This shows us the difficulties of understanding the biomechanics of fast bowlers and finding the root cause of injuries due to a lack of research in S&C for fast bowling in cricket. So, individual attention for bowlers is very vital to understand the biomechanics & physiology of the player. The proper guidance on physical factors (strength, power & speed), bowling techniques (run-up, front foot contact, back foot contact, reactive strength index, force absorption and produce) as well as bowling skills (accuracy & consistency). Fast bowling coaches could work with the S&C coach to produce an efficient module to work with. 

Working on the above factors from school-level cricket to first-class cricket could help the system to reduce the risk of injuries. 

Freehit contributor – Farnaz Nawaz is an ASCA Certified Strength & Conditioning coach. He is currently working as the Head Coach at Zero Xcuses Fitness and as the Trainer at Moors Sports Club.