The sport of cricket has long been thought of and described by many as a non-athletic pursuit and a relatively injury-free sport. However, if one examines a range of recent studies, these descriptions are not necessarily true. The physical demands placed on the modern day professional cricketer are anything but non-athletic, and injury can play a big part in determining the course of matches, playing careers and the earning capacity of players.
The physical requirements and injury patterns seen in cricket vary greatly, depending upon the format of the match being played, the role of a player within his or her team and the circumstances of matches being played. Compared to other team sports such as football, cricket appears to be relatively safe for batsmen, spin bowlers and wicketkeepers.
The fast bowler in cricket is, however, one of the most injury prone athletes in world sport. At any point in time, up to 20% of all fast bowlers are unavailable for selection because of injury.
This is no surprise when you consider that during their delivery stride, fast bowlers have to rapidly flex, extend, rotate and side-flex their trunk, and, at the same time, have to absorb up to eight times their body weight with their front leg impacting onto a rock hard pitch.
In addition to this, they have to perform multiple and repetitive sprints at up to 95% of their maximum running speed and cover the most distance when sprinting, striding and jogging. This is more than all the other players in every form of cricket.
Young fast bowlers are prone to lower back stress fractures
The most serious injuries that fast bowlers sustain are lumbar vertebra (low back) stress fractures, and these injuries can cause an absence from matches for up to 12 months. Fast bowlers under the age of 23 are particularly prone to these injuries because their spines have not fully matured and do not possess the bone mineral content that spines of older fast bowlers do. In addition to being young, the two major risk factors for lumbar stress injuries are a bowling technique that involves high degrees of trunk rotation and poorly managed bowling workloads.
Fast bowlers are also prone to sustaining side strains (which are generally a tear of one of the abdominal muscles from their rib attachments or bony rib injuries) and ankle impingement syndromes, which are a result of landing with their foot in an extremely pointed position, often into an uneven area created by bowling foo holes.
As fast bowlers get older, the repetitive stresses of bowling and age related risk factors cause an increase in the number of hamstring injuries, and occasionally career threatening degenerative knee conditions that they experience.
Somewhat surprisingly, most serious shoulder injuries in cricketers originate from throwing whilst fielding, rather than from fast bowling. These injuries typically are a result of inadequate strength of shoulder muscles and poor throwing mechanics, which interestingly are often related to poor lower body strength and inefficient patterns of lower body and trunk movement in the throwing action
Injury rates for spin bowlers are typically around 7%, and whilst the impact forces that spin bowlers encounter during the delivery stride are generally much lower than those of fast bowlers, they typically have higher bowling workloads than fast bowlers and have to undergo repetitive and stressful loads to the shoulder and fingers. High speed and high force rotations of the shoulder are the cause of shoulder tendon injuries being common in spin bowlers, and if not treated appropriately, these injuries can necessitate prolonged periods of time away from cricket.
Both off and leg spin bowlers often experience degenerative joint conditions in the fingers that are a result of the force of a rapidly spinning and relatively large cricket ball being imparted onto a narrow finger.
Injury rates for batsmen are around 7%, and this group of players do not lead as charmed an existence as many people think. The advent of T20 cricket has seen an increase in the amount of repetitive and high intensity sprinting when running between wickets and this has been accompanied by an increase in the incidence of hamstring injuries.
In the Indian subcontinent, avoiding heat stress is a major challenge for batsmen, particularly in centres where high humidity levels exist in addition to high temperatures. Adequate hydration is necessary
Adequate and well-planned hydration with the appropriate mix of fluids is necessary to avoid potentially serious heat related illnesses. Interestingly, long before there is a risk to a player’s health, dehydration will cause a reduction in the skill levels of batsmen. Tragically, recent episodes have illustrated the very rare but real dangers to a player’s health when struck on the head and neck by a fast delivery. Recent modifications and improvements to the safety standards of helmets should greatly alleviate the risk of serious head injury. Impact injuries to the hands and fingers are also a major cause of lost playing time in batsmen, and fractures to these areas will generally cause up to 2 months of missed playing time.
It would be natural to assume that wicketkeepers have the lowest injury rates in cricket, and whilst this is the case (their rates are 5%), they are subject to a unique set of demands that can greatly impact their performance.
Wicketkeepers must maintain intensive concentration for every ball of an innings, and have to repeatedly squat to deep levels (often in the order of greater than 550 squats per day). They have to perform repetitive and high intensity bursts of short running, and experience high-speed ball impacts into their hands and fingers many times a day. Knee and back injuries are regularly found in wicketkeepers, but finger and hand fractures are a major cause of the missed playing time that they experience.
Whilst impact injuries are generally hard to avoid, the risk of sustaining a serious long term injury can be reduced with appropriate planning and interventions. Injuries can be reduced by better planning of training schedules, adequate equipment, recovery routines, strength and conditioning programs, technique modifications, early diagnosis and management.
These will be some of the topics that will be discussed during the series of articles that I will be presenting on the BCCI website in the future.