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Give the quicks a chance

Thursday, December 06, 2012 - 3:00 PM
Source: SportsFan
Author: Michael Rogers

The sight of Australia's second-string pace attack being put to the sword in Perth by South Africa, with no less than a series win and the world No.1 ranking at stake, was the last straw for critics of Cricket Australia's bowler rotation policy.

Lion-hearted Victorian quick Peter Siddle had been ruled out through a combination of fatigue and a tight hamstring, while Ben Hilfenhaus was left out after sharing a huge workload in Adelaide after James Pattinson broke down.

It was certainly too much for fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee, who cited his own experience of bowling 535 balls in a Test against Pakistan and backing up to take 10 wickets in the next Test that started two days later.

"[Former Test skipper] Ian [Chappell] said, 'I can just imagine me trying to say to you you're not playing the next Test, I'd have to duck real quick wouldn't I?' My theory was never give a sucker an even break," Lillee said after the squad for the decisive Perth Test was revealed.

Regardless of the collective disappointment at the loss at the WACA, it's too early to pass judgement on the new policy of picking quicks when they're "fit to perform", in the words of CA team performance manager Pat Howard.

The squad policy has been adopted in response to the increased demands of international cricket, and the various types of cricket being played. The physical demands of bowling in a series of T20s are vastly different to bowling in a one-day international, and both are a quantum leap apart from the ordeal of sending down 50-plus overs in Test cricket.

The trouble for Cricket Australia is that the sudden proliferation of T20 cricket means that the international calendar is more crowded than ever before, and the demands on our best bowlers are greater. Cricket medicos around the world have been forced to amend their programs to ensure their best quicks are available more often than not - and it's still a work in progress, as Cricket NSW team doctor John Orchard told ESPN Cricinfo last month.

"The ask of the modern player, which is to come out like a sprinter in T20 and bowl four overs of smoke, two days' rest then another four overs, and then adjust from that to the marathon efforts of bowling 40 overs in Test cricket with maybe only a week or 10 days' break in between, bodies all over the world are having a problem with that," he said.

Take the contrasting cases of James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, for instance. Both are nominal first-choice members of the Test pace attack and both are currently sidelined with injury.

Cummins had a slow build-up through winter before playing some T20 cricket with the Sydney Sixers. He returned to Australia with stress fractures in his back, ruling him out for the summer. Pattinson also built his fitness through winter before playing a starring role with Victoria in their Sheffield Shield and one-day campaigns. He managed one and a half Tests before a side strain crippled him.

They are two different bowlers on two different programs - but the result was the same.

Cricket fans need to give doctors and sports scientists the opportunity to get it right. Experts in sports science are credited with significant advances in the fitness and performance of AFL players, rugby league players and football players worldwide. Why, then, is their influence being queried in cricket? Are cricketers such different athletes that their performance and fitness cannot be effectively managed by professionals? Probably not.

What we do know is that the influence of sports science in cricket is likely less advanced than the football codes. There are also fewer case studies: Australia has three, maybe four quicks playing in any one Test match. An AFL team has 22 players in action each weekend, all of whom can be monitored. That's a lot less research over the course of two or three years.

And it's not just Australia battling with the quandary over their fast men. England and South Africa have both adopted a squad rotation policy for their quicks and it has paid dividends for both nations over an extended period. Our national team needs to be given the same opportunity.

Put simply, if more of Australia's best fast bowlers are available for more Tests, more often, then it can be judged a success. If, after next year's pair of Ashes series, the Test side finds itself without the likes of Pattinson, Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Cummins on a regular basis, then hard questions must be asked. But not before.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.

Follow BigPond Sport on Twitter: @bigpondsport


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