The selection of fast bowlers in Australia: time to sack the selectors or should we be looking further afield?

20121114-140015.jpgHere are some quotes from John Inverarity the Chairman of selectors of the Australian cricket team with respect to Mitchell Starc:

With Mitchell Starc the reality is he will not be able to do Melbourne and Sydney coming off two recent Tests, being 22 years old and bowling as much as he has in the previous two Tests.

Its bowling loads.  The science behind it is they’ve got to build up their bowling loads so the oscillations (variations) are not very significant. If they do become significant, as they have for Mitchell, you enter a danger period, a high-risk period.

So on the basis of the foregoing, Mitchell Starc has been ruled out of playing in the Boxing Day test match some 9 days after bowling his team to victory in Hobart.  He has every right to feel very very harshly done by.

The fact of the matter is the way Cricket Australia is managing the workload of its bowlers is simply not working.  Listen to former players (blowhards or not) and they are all saying “they should be bowling more: in games and in the nets”.  Why then are Pat Howard and John Inverarity not listening? Has the review of cricket undertaken since the 2009/10 Ashes debacle so blinded the powers that be in Australian cricket that they are too scared to return to “the old ways”? Is this slavish devotion to sports science the result of a non-cricket person being at the helm?

Let me be clear here: I have no doubt whatsoever that Messrs Howard and Inverarity have the best interests of the players at heart whilst also wanting to put the best team on the field.  However, by “managing” players on the one hand they are failing to reach the goal of playing the best team on the other.

That said, is the current injury “crisis” among the fast bowlers in this country really the fault of the selectors, the sports boffins and Pat Howard? The answer to this question is where one needs to forget the sports science for a minute and actually consider what players of the past are saying.

The former players are consistent in their criticism of the current way fast bowlers are managed and advocate for more bowling rather than less.  This argument is oft expanded to encompass both bowling in first class games and in the nets.  If it is that simple, why then are Australia’s fast bowlers not bowling as much as they should? The answer is equally as simple: in the chase for more dollars and part of the commercialisation of the game the bulk of Australia’s fast bowling stocks have prepared for this coming summer with an international T20 tournament, followed by the IPL Champions series and then one (at most for most) first class game.  How can they be getting enough overs in preparation for a season when they are spell limited to four overs a game every second day?

This is where the science comes back into play and, in my view, Cricket Australia needs to have a long hard look at itself.  Inverarity’s argument is that they wish to avoid too much variance (oscillation) in the workloads of our fast bowlers.  Of course there is going to be a variance when one week the fast bowlers are asked to bowl a four over spell and the next they are asked to bowl 30 overs in a day.

The very playing schedule approved by Cricket Australia is, in fact, causing there to be variances in work load which are seeing our fast bowlers rested for fear of injury.

I know it is a changed world since the days of the great Fred Trueman but I think Cricket Australia would be well advised to consider his approach to preparing for a season ahead.  Dickie Bird in his book “My Autobiography” describes how Trueman would start his season preparations in the nets by bowling off one step two months before the season started and he then built up his bowling strength so that by the time the season started two months later he was bowling in the nets at full pace and ready to go.  Correct me if I am wrong but Trueman was rarely injured, rarely rested and played significantly more days of cricket in a summer than players are asked to play now.

It is at this juncture that the new age thinkers and slaves to science will posit that I am living the past and that the game is different these days.  To those saying that I pose this question: are the positions of Cricket Australia (the avoidance of variances) and those of past players (bowling more in red ball cricket and in the nets) really that far apart?  I think they are closer than they seem and indeed am of the view that if Mitchell Starc had have played in all of the domestic 4 day games this summer in Australia in advance of the test series instead of bowling a white ball he would be in playing at the MGC.  Why? Because his workload, if he had have done, would have been consistent rather than a hodgepodge of short spells, long flights and limited red ball cricket.

Until the schedule is balanced (and goodness knows that seems to be getting more unlikely every day), the dreams of playing in a Boxing Day test match of young men like Mitchell Starc will continue to be dashed.  That, of itself, is a tragedy.

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