Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fragile flowers?

Malinga - an action that
puts a strain on parts
that other actions leave untouched
Lasith Malinga is 27.  He has announced that he is retiring from Test cricket to concentrate on limited overs matches.  His wrecked knee is at risk in the longer form of the game.  Shaun Tait is 28.  He has announced that he is retiring from 40 and 50 over cricket to concentrate on T20 which is all that his injury prone frame will allow.  He withdrew from First Class cricket in 2008.  There are serious issues here and these players cannot really be criticised for acting so as to maximise their earning power in the inevitably short life that any professional sportsman has.  But are they unduly fragile flowers?  It looks it.

Malinga has bowled 11867 balls in first class and test cricket, 10464 in ODI and List A and 1113 in T20.  A grand total of 23444.  Perhaps 2000 per year over his career. Tait has bowled 9263 balls in First Class and Test cricket, 6588 in ODI and List A and 1780 in T20.  A total of 17631.

Rhodes 185799 deliveries
and his cap never fell off once
The top deliverer of all time is Wilfrid Rhodes with 185799 and it is the slow men who dominate the top of this particular table.  But in his career Fred Trueman bowled 100687 balls,  perhaps 4500 per year.  Other seamers such as Brian Statham, Ken Higgs, Courtney Walsh and JK Lever also sent down well over 100000 balls.  It looks unlikely that any modern pace man will get anywhere near these figures.

Is it fair to compare the workload of these old uns with contemporary cricketers?  Contemporary cricketers at least have the benefit of sound medical and physiotherapy advice and modern equipment.  Unlike many of their predecessors - Frank Tyson missed half a test series because of a blister caused by an ill-fitting boot.  Harold Larwood's foot problem following the Bodyline tour was misdiagnosed repeatedly and subject to unnecessary surgery.  

Trueman at full stretch
But as Malinga and Tait show how fast bowling seems to eat human resources like few other sporting activities.  There are few Truemans, blessed the perfect frame and the perfect action which allow them to remain free of severe injury. The strains on growing bodies and grown bodies alike are severe -  for example the landing leg may have to absorb forces up to 10 times the weight of the body.  If that doesn't get your ankle or your knee, then the torque on the lower back will.    Andrew Flintoff's frame couldn't take the strain and he retired 2 years ago having bowled 42829 balls.  Dennis Lillee's career was interrupted by back problems which limited his output to 54071 thunderbolts.  Shoab Akthar retired during the World Cup, knees totally shattered having delivered only 28366 rockets.  Simon Jones, the unsung hero of the 2005 Ashes, has bowled only 15502 deliveries so injury prone has he been.  Quite rightly, therefore, young bowlers have to conform to strict ECB guidelines to stop them being overbowled while their bodies are still taking shape. 

Meanwhile Fantasy Bob may have delivered no more than 20000 deliveries in his whole career, including in the back garden and on the beach, at a pace that has rarely been described as blistering.  And he is a total physical wreck.  When Fred Trueman was asked how he felt having taken over 300 Test wickets he said, 'Bloody tired.'   FB is sure he spoke nothing but the truth.


  1. FB has wisely spread his distinguished career over a long period by conserving his athletic frame carefully. As pointed out, professional players have not been so prescient and perhaps have not been allowed to be, due to the unrelenting demands of the modern fixture season. In the days of Statham, Trueman et al the schedule was a much more leisurely affair, with very little one-day cricket and only a couple of test series a year. Some winters had no overseas tour at all. Players had time to recover from injuries, rather than carrying them into yet another exacting tournament. Again we have the advent of World Series Cricket and the spectre of Mammon to thank for this state of affairs.

  2. Thansk - FB is usually content to lay everything at the door of Mammon and while there may be something in this, the sheer number of balls bowled per year by Trueman relative to others suggests other factors. He also suspects poor medical treatment for injured players was more likely in the past quite apart from the financial implications of not playing. Like all good discussion issues there is probably no right answer.

  3. I met our fellow blogger "Pedant" in the summer slacks section of TK Max on Friday. We were discussing your data set. Pendant asked me to check if Fiery Fred's impressive total of 100,687 delivers included no balls?

  4. Barnacle - a fair point - but he understands that Fred denied ever bowling a no ball so the question is academic.