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Physiologic Profile of Professional Cricketers

Johnstone, James A1; Ford, Paul A2

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 11 - p 2900-2907
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bac3a7
Original Research

Johnstone, JA and Ford, PA. Physiologic profile of professional cricketers. J Strength Cond Res 24(11): 2900-2907, 2010-This study aims to provide a physiologic profile of professional cricketers and note positional differences at the start of the 2007/08 competitive season. Fifteen participants (9 bowlers, 6 batsmen) aged 25.0 ± 5.0 years (mean ± SD) took part in this study. Participants (bowlers and batsmen) completed a series of field-based fitness assessments: body composition (sum of 7 skinfolds, 72.5 ± 16.5 and 65.5 ± 19.3 mm, respectively), flexibility (sit and reach 8.1 ± 10.3 and 6.0 ± 6.2 cm, respectively), predicted maximal oxygen uptake (multistage shuttle run, 54.1 ± 2.8 and 56.1 ± 4.5 ml·kg−1·min−1, respectively), upper- (medicine ball throw, 7.7 ± 0.6 and 7.0 ± 0.1 m, respectively) and lower-body strength (countermovement jump, 45.7 ± 5.8 and 43.9 ± 4.1 cm, respectively), speed (sprint 17.7 m, 2.76 ± 0.6 and 2.77 ± 0.1 s, respectively), and explosive power (repeated jump, 31.0 ± 2.0 and 34.1 ± 4.8 cm, respectively). The data provided the physical fitness profile for each player, which, compared with normative data, identified that this cohort of professional cricketers had some superior fitness parameters compared with the general population, and where applicable, were comparable with other professional athletes. In addition, after effect size calculations, the results showed that some physical fitness differences existed between playing positions. Cricket professionals possess a superior level of physical fitness and strength, and conditioning coaches should seek to progress these physical parameters and further identify position-specific physical requirements to progress the modern game.

1School of Life Science, University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom; and 2School of Health and Bioscience, University of East London, London, United Kingdom

Address correspondence to James Johnstone,

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In recent years, cricket has become a professional multimillion dollar sport with more than 100 countries recognized by the International Cricket Council. High-profile international competitions have seen a corresponding increase in interest in the game (20). Varied match formats of cricket, differing specialist positions, and the eclectic environment it is often played in require players to be able to cope with a broad continuum of physiologic playing intensities (26,37). With the advent of the shorter, more intense formats of the game (i.e., 20/20 and 1-day cricket), the idea of cricket as a leisurely activity is perhaps disingenuous (44).

Cricket lacks the depth of peer reviewed literature in comparison with other sports. Although there are biomechanical (4,11,32,35) and anthropometrically (39) based studies linked to bowling, there appears to be few articles reporting whole-team physiologic profiles. Literature has focused predominately on the prevalence and avoidance of injury in cricket (33). It has been reported that there is an indifferent culture toward planned physical preparation at all levels of cricket, with many players inadequately physically conditioned, which has been linked to injury occurrence (12,15).

A collation of research provides an embryonic view of the professional cricketer's physiologic needs. Fast bowlers delivering balls at approximately 44.4 m·s−1 requires all players to have high speed and agility facets, as well as fast reactions in the modern game (30). A fast bowler could bowl 10 × 6 ball overs in a “spell,” covering approximately 1.9 km in 5.3 discontinuous minutes with running speeds at approximately 1.3 m·s−1 (26,38). The bowler enters 60 episodes of upper- and lower-body actions (i.e., acceleration and deceleration), requiring a significant ability to work at high anaerobic intensities repetitively. Blood lactate concentrations in fast bowlers have been reported at a moderate 5 mmol·L−1 with heart rate peaks of fast and slow bowlers measured at between 159 and 190 beats·min−1, respectively (9,21). Fast bowlers can achieve high ground reaction forces (e.g., 5-9 times body mass), requiring strong eccentric strength in the quadriceps and a strong core (e.g., lumbo-pelvic area) to withstand this repetitive action (12,26). Lower-body strength has been suggested as a significant factor when determining delivery velocity between groups of performers (33). Alternatively, a batsman scoring 100 runs could possibly cover approximately 3.2 km in 8 discontinuous “active” minutes, running at approximately 24 km·hr−1 (3,26). Multiple acceleration/deceleration episodes throughout the innings (3,38) lead to potential dissimilar energy system requirements to the bowler (i.e., intermittent repetitive high-intensity anaerobic) with recovery time between bouts of activity being erratic because of the demands of the match. To withstand these different positional requirements, it appears that there is a need for trained athletes who can play cricket (44). Moreover, the intermittent repetitive acceleration/deceleration episodes continue when fielding, during which a player could cover 15 km in a day. This aspect of the game requires intermittent upper-body explosive action (i.e., throwing ball over various distances) for 2- to 3-hour periods alongside some prolonged low-intensity activity periods (36).

For all on-field positions, especially fast bowlers, the repetitive high-intensity acceleration-deceleration (i.e., eccentric muscle action) element can lead to cricket-specific fatigue because of altered muscle action in players linked to the loss of the elastic energy element within muscle (25). From the limited data at the professional level, it has been suggested that elite cricket players have recorded similar aerobic and anaerobic “fitness” levels as professional international rugby union players (3,26). In addition, similar to other team sports (16), the literature suggests that there are different requirements between the playing positions.

Because, to the present authors' best knowledge, it appears that this information is currently unavailable in professional cricket (26,40), conducting sport-specific investigations that focus on clearly defining the anthropometric and physiologic fitness variables would appear to be novel and valuable to conditioning practitioners. The objective of this study is to highlight the anthropometric and physiologic profile of a professional cricket team and identify differences between on-field playing positions, before the start of a competitive first class season. The null hypothesis states there will be no difference in the physiologic profile of batsmen and bowlers.

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Experimental Approach to the Problem

A cross-sectional experimental design was used to establish a fitness profile for a team of professional cricketers. A variety of physical assessment test items was selected to provide a broad ranging profile of fitness measured in the applied setting, with many tests specific to the sport that act as dependent variables against the playing positions, which were the independent variables. Some of the assessments used are commonly performed and provide valid and reliable data that can be compared with normative data. See specific commentary below for further details.

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Fifteen professional male cricketers, aged 25.0 ± 5.0 years (mean ± SD), provided written consent to participate in the present study. All participants were members of an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) First Class (professional) County Cricket team. The team members have first class competition experience of 2 to 17 years, with 5 players in the cohort having participated at full international level. Of the 15 participants, 9 were classified as being predominately bowlers, with 2 classified as slow bowlers and 7 as medium/fast bowlers. Six remaining participants were classified as being predominately batsmen, including the wicketkeeper. Classifications were noted from players' statistics (13). For 5 months preceding the assessment (i.e., close season), 6 medium/fast bowlers had been engaged in a periodized strength development program, training 3 sessions per week. The remainder of the team were involved in competitive cricket overseas and were not involved in a periodized training plan. Local institutional ethical agreement was gained for the study, and participants were informed of the experimental risks and signed informed consent documents before the investigation.

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In the 24 hours before physical fitness assessment, participants were instructed to keep hydrated and avoid strenuous exercise and excessive caffeine ingestion. Participants were fully briefed on each assessment they were participating in and progressed through a series of anthropometric and physiologic tests as part of a preseason assessment day. Participants completed a 10-minute standardized warm-up, which included approximately 5-7 minute light aerobic multidirectional movements and 3-7 minute controlled dynamic stretchings, as delivered by the team's strength and conditioning coach. This warm-up was completed after the anthropometric and body composition assessment.

Stature was recorded during inspiration using a stadiometer (Model Seca 214, Birmingham, UK) and was measured to the nearest 0.1 cm. Body mass was determined using standard walk-on scales (model Seca 761, Birmingham, UK) and recorded to the nearest 0.1 kg. Skinfold thickness was measured at 7 sites to the nearest 0.1 mm on the participants using Harpenden callipers (British Indicators Ltd., West Sussex, UK): biceps, triceps, subscapular, supraspinale, abdominal, front of thigh, and medial calf. One experienced investigator collected all anthropometric and body composition data by following recommended set protocols as documented elsewhere (27).

A multistage fitness test (CD version, Coachwise UK) was completed to gain a predictive assessment for maximal aerobic capacity (o2max). Following a standard protocol (22), participants were required to run each 20-m shuttle in time with an audible “beep.” Two warnings were given to participants if they failed to make the 20-m shuttle in time, with the third failure requiring the participant to be removed from the test. The last successfully completed shuttle was noted. Predicted o2max was calculated from the shuttles completed (34). Participants' end heart rate was collected (RS100, Polar, Oy, Finland) by researchers immediately on individual withdrawal from the test, in beats·min−1.

Flexibility measures were taken by a trained assessor. Lower back and hamstring assessment was assessed using a “Sit and Reach” box (Cranlea, Birmingham, UK) following a recommended set protocol (1). Participants removed shoes, reached forward on expiration, and pushed the measuring device to its furthest point while keeping knees extended in the process. Each participant was allowed 3 attempts, with the highest score past the toe-line recorded to the nearest 0.1 cm.

Speed was assessed using adapted sprint tests protocols (37): the Sprint 1 and Sprint 3 tests. Sprint 1 requires participants to maximally sprint a 17.68-m distance, which is equivalent to running between batting creases at opposing ends of the full cricket wicket (22.56 m). Alternatively, Sprint 3 requires participants to perform 3 repeated maximal sprint trials between the same markers. Both tests were completed while the participant was carrying a standard-size willow cricket bat (0.97 m × 0.11 m), weighing approximately 1.3 kg (13). Participants were required to ensure a section of the bat crossed the batting crease at each end of the sprint and used cricket-specific turning techniques to minimize turning time. Time was recorded to the nearest 0.01 second using the Smart Speed Timing Gate System (SSTGS; Fusion Sport, Coopers Plains, Australia).

Upper-body strength and power was obtained using a medicine ball throw and timed press-up tests. The medicine ball test involved participants performing a reverse overhead throw of a 5-kg ball. A tape measure was placed at the heel of the participant's feet (0 m), and the participant was instructed to perform a maximal reverse overhead throw without moving the feet (no jumping/foot shuffle). After a single habituation trial, each participant had 3 attempts, with the best score recorded to the nearest 0.1 m. The press-up test was completed by all participants, using a standardized protocol, where participants were instructed to perform the maximum total number of press-ups they could do in a 1-minute period, without any breaks. A press-up was only counted if the participant's elbows broke movement through a 90° angle, as subjectively assessed by an investigator. Both protocols were based upon previously recommended techniques (1). Conversely, lower-body strength and power was obtained using vertical jump testing, using the SSTGS. Participants performed 2 forms of assessment: countermovement jump (CMJ) and repeated jumps. From these tests, measures of jump height (m), contact time (m·s−1), and subsequent reactive strength index (RSI) were obtained, as documented previously (23), following recommended protocols (29). The RSI gives an indication of jump height obtained relative to ground contact time as a lower-body power measure.

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Statistical Analyses

A cross-sectional design was used to assess the anthropometric and physiologic characteristics of professional male cricket players. All the descriptive results for this study are presented as mean ± 1 SD and 95% confidence intervals. Magnitude of differences between the batsmen and bowlers were interpreted using Cohen's effect size (ES), as described in the previous literature (19,33). Qualitative terms were assigned to ES thresholds: 0.2 to 0.6 small; 0.6 to 1.2 moderate; 1.2 to 2.0 large; greater than 2.0 very large (19). As a result, statistical power (%) was also derived.

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From the data (Table 1), it appears that the variance of stature, body mass, body mass index, and sum of skinfolds is small. The bowlers appear taller and have a greater body mass than the batsman, indicated by the moderate ES in both cases, but there is only a small difference in actual body composition, as inferred from the skinfold data.

Table 1

Table 1

The physiologic testing data (Table 2) highlights some variances between physical fitness attributes for the professional bowlers and batsmen. There is a low variance in the results for the field-based aerobic fitness assessment throughout the team, although batsmen do have a moderately greater (3.7%) predicted o2max value than the bowlers. The sit and reach test indicates that there is a variance in lower lumbar and hamstring flexibility throughout the team, with the bowlers having a greater indicated capacity than the batsman, although this was only a small difference. Running speed in the team for both the Sprint 1 and Sprint 3 tests is similar; however, the bowlers achieved moderately better results than the batsmen while performing the maximal repeated sprints (1.5%). There are large differences in the upper-body strength and power tests, with the batsman completing the press-up test better than the bowlers (47%), whereas, conversely, the bowlers produced greater reverse throws compared with their respective team mates (10%). In relation to lower-body strength and power, although similar results in the CMJ were observed, the batsman showed greater RSI during the repeated jumps compared with the bowlers as a indication of lower- body power (10% and 19%, respectively).

Table 2

Table 2

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To the authors' best knowledge, there is a lack of peer-reviewed information linked to the physiologic profiles of professional cricket players and possible differences that may exist among on-field playing positions. This study is unique in highlighting the physiologic characteristics in the modern era of the game. Moreover, it identified that there were differences in the physiologic profile of batsmen and bowlers, rejecting the null hypothesis. Providing reliable data to a body of research where it is lacking could ultimately lead to the examination and development of optimum conditioning and training regimes to enhance athletic prediction and performance, in line with other sports or position-specific demands, and may help minimize predisposition to injury.

It is evident from match analysis literature that there are physiologic similarities between cricket and other sports, as mentioned previously, but there are specific demands for this sport, and its associated playing positions, that must be considered by conditioning practitioners to optimize performance (40). In agreement with previous literature, bowlers assessed in this cohort were heavier and taller than the batsmen (39). Although it is suggested that size is not necessarily advantageous for batting (39), it has been noted that a tall stature could be perceived as a positive variable for bowlers in terms of delivery release angle and force production (17,27,33,39). Similar to other recent studies (33,39), it appears that the 7 fast bowlers within the present sample support anecdotal evidence of the modern game (i.e., last 15 yr) linked with the possible benefit of increased stature for bowlers because 80% of leading elite test match bowlers, as categorized by number of wickets taken, are over 1.83 m in stature (6,13). Such information is not applicable to conditioning coaches, but certainly supports talent identification criteria.

Previous research has identified the range of total skinfolds in elite male cricketers as 32.1 to 85.8 mm (37), and all the participants within this study fall within this range. Mean skinfolds are 10 mm less within a previous article (39), although perhaps this can be associated with the participants being players from Australia rather than England, as in the present study. Previously, it was suggested that definitions of and cultural activities associated with elite sport, and its wider association with training and conditioning, are different depending on the country, and this finding could reaffirm this concept (28). Although there were small differences in absolute figures of total skinfold count and body mass index values between the batsmen and bowling groups, it is partly evident that slow bowlers possess different body composition characteristics, as linked with less athletic demands to perform at the professional level, because of the increased reliance on skill or technique rather than physical conditioning, which warrants further investigation to confirm.

A further basic observation from the present study compared with the previous literature is a similar mean age of the participants. It could be hypothesized that the physical stresses and associated injuries linked to the demands of professional bowling require a younger physique or specifically that the fast bowling position has a limited career span because of injury in later years. Fast bowlers suffer the highest rate of injury in comparison with other playing positions (12,15). Historical analysis of playing statistics possibly supports the notion of a limited or intermittent career span for fast bowlers. Within a compiled list of 10 performers who are ranked on the most consecutive appearances made, only 1 fast bowler is noted within One Day Internationals and none at the 5-day test match level, both of which are dominated by batsman (13). Fast bowlers are seen as a key match winning position in cricket, and further research into the specific attributes and longevity of this type of bowler should be investigated (14,44). Similarly, further investigation of the age of the players identifies a range of 19 (17- 36) years across the team, with the eldest player being a batsman. This is a unique element within this particular sport at the professional level because few other sports that require significant intermittent physical effort would have such a broad range of ages. Specialist batsman can continue to perform at the elite level into their mid-30 s, which is perhaps because of less physically intense elements of their respective position.

When focusing upon physiologic conditioning, the mean results for predicted o2max for the present sample of professional crickets indicates that these individuals have a “superior” level of aerobic fitness in comparison with the wider general population (24). Such findings are similar to Smith et al. (37), and because end-heart rate acted as proxy demonstration of players working at or near maximal, these findings appear to be valid. Cricket has a “moderate aerobic endurance” component in relation to these results, which may relate to the movement patterns of the game, because match analysis indicates that fielders move approximately 15.5 km in a day, although over 77% of this distance is at walking pace (36). To provide perspective with other elite level sports, it can be seen that elite professionals posses o2max levels ranging between 50.8 to 62.5 ml·kg·min−1 in rugby union (10), 36.0 to 64.6 ml·kg−1·min−1 in basketball (18), and 48 to 56 ml·kg·min−1 in baseball and softball (2,42). With the specific physiologic and positional requirements of other sports, comparisons between studies are sometimes not beneficial because of the specific requisites. In addition, intra-analysis identified that predicted aerobic endurance between the playing positions highlighted a moderate ES between bowlers and batsmen. Similar to other research (26) results, our results suggest that batsmen are aerobically “fitter.” A possible causality of this finding could be associated with the specific short-term, high-intensity anaerobic repetitive nature of (fast) bowling deliveries in comparison with the potentially more long-duration, continuous nature of batting.

As highlighted, cricket has episodes of high-intensity sprint activity, and this is a key characteristic of the game (26,36). Sprint distances between 20 to 70 m have been suggested, with the lesser distance being the most common (30,38,44). However, more recently, movement analysis of fielding suggests that high-intensity activity occurs in less than 2% of the total game time, and each episode may last under 2 seconds (36). Analysis of batting activity identifies repetitive high- and low-intensity activity at moderate ratios of 1:47 and 1:67, in shorter (i.e., 1-day) and longer (i.e., 5-day) test matches, respectively. During this study, participants' Sprint 1 mean times closely correspond to figures highlighted by Smith et al. (37). Intra-analysis identified differences in absolute times between the specific positions, with the bowlers faster on Sprint 1 and Sprint 3, although ES magnitude between batsmen and bowlers was considered small. It could be hypothesized that batsmen should have a faster Sprint 3 time than bowlers because of their positional specialization and the batting-specific technical agility turning component of the test. Inconclusive results of the repeated sprint times could be related to all players having batted throughout their respective careers, with the turning component being a well-learned technical component. In addition, commonality of short-distance sprinting is probably linked to the ubiquitous fielding that role players engage in and with bowlers frequently having to complete repeated sprints during delivery spells. Direct comparison of sprint results with other sports is difficult because of the unique distances and methods used in the cricket fitness assessment, but basketball and rugby league players mean times to cover 20 m were noted at 3.12 (18), 3.1, and 2.9 seconds for a forward and back, respectively (16), suggesting similar performance levels.

Strength and power tests provided somewhat ambiguous results between the 2 playing positions. Research has demonstrated that upper-body strength correlates to higher bowling velocity (32,33). Bowlers demonstrated higher performance in the maximal medicine ball throw, whereas the batsmen had higher mean totals in the muscular endurance press-up task. Both these results were supported by strong ES. One repetition maximal medicine ball throw may be more aligned to the bowler's physiologic requirements because of the playing conditions in which bowlers would bowl 1 delivery (i.e., upper-body maximal contraction), with approximately 30-second intervals (5), which mirrors this test. The immediate repetitive endurance movement pattern of the press-up, rather than it being more aligned to physiologic status of the batsmen, may actually be more foreign to the bowling participants. Both batsmen and bowlers were rated as “excellent” in this assessment, although comparison with other sports are limited because of varying protocols and availability of data on this activity (24,42).

A variety of jumps were performed by the participants. It is suggested that tests such as CMJ will give an indication of slow (>0.025 s) stretch shortening cycle performance (7). The mean team CMJ height was comparable with figures seen within rugby players and basketball, 45 to 55 cm and 47 cm, respectively (10,18). Although negligible differences in lower-body power were recorded between the 2 playing groups, the bowlers jumped higher in absolute terms in the CMJ (small ES), which supports the findings of Pyne et al. (33), who identified that predictors of fast bowling velocity in juniors and seniors were related to CMJ performance. However, batsmen performed better during the 5 repeated jumps (moderate ES), which again correlates with the better performance of repeated strength/power endurance-related activities within the upper body. Nevertheless, with small sample numbers, further large group analysis is required for any conclusions to be inferred.

In addition, the sit and reach test indicates that there is a high variance in lower lumbar and hamstring flexibility throughout the team, with the bowlers having a greater indicated capacity than the batsman, although this was only a small difference. Greater flexibility in this specific area could be needed within the bowling group because of the technical movements that occur during the bowling delivery process. Cross-sport comparison is affected by methodologic issues associated with the test, and so results may only be useful for intragroup comparison (31). Apart from injury-related articles (8), there appears to be limited information linked to flexibility in cricket players and their performance.

Cricket has not, until recent years, traditionally engaged planned strength and conditioning practices. An interesting footnote to the analysis of the team profile was the performance of the players within the bowling cohort who had engaged in a periodized program (n = 6) during the close season. These players achieved superior performance ratings within the sprinting, upper-body power, CMJ, and flexibility assessments in comparison with their peers, thus providing further evidence to the cricket community about the value of a long-term annual periodized physical training process.

As with any applied investigation, there are some clear inherent limitations of the present study, as fundamentally related to the field nature of the tests and restricted sample in the respective cohort, which restricts further analysis and inference. For example, Duthie et al. (10) reports that field tests, such as repetitive press-ups, can lack reliability and validity unless strict adherence to protocols is ensured. Similarly, perhaps development of the testing protocols is needed in relation to recent research on movement patterns in the game, with more measures of first step quickness (>5 m) through to maximum speed because these high-intensity movements could be related to crucial episodes in the match (7). For example, future assessment of cricket-specific speed should consider assessing shorter distances (i.e., 5 m, 10 m, 15 m) because these may be the match-specific distances associated with higher levels of match-winning fielding performance. In addition, the statistical power calculations obtained from the results were relatively low, with the majority greater than 80% (Table 2), which could indicate that a type II error has occurred with some of the findings. Nonetheless, the present study does provide novel information as linked to the physiologic profile of professional cricket players using relatively accurate and reproducible methods, which was the objective. Likewise, previous authors have reported relatively accurate and reproducible data produced from all of the methods elsewhere within specific studies and within the supportive literature review (22,41,43).

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Practical Applications

There is limited and incomplete peer-reviewed information on the anthropometric and physiologic profile of professional cricketers. As the different formats of the game develop, more position-specific specialist players will be required, and these specialist elements will partly be based on their physiologic attributes. Strength and conditioning specialists will require clear, reliable, and valid data on players to develop enhanced programs that allow for improvements in performance. The embryonic profile data given here suggest that strength and conditioning coaches should, after completion of a general training program, focus on developing lower-body speed (explosive and repetitive) and anaerobic upper-body power within players. These initial findings could be used within junior or developing player training to allow for a smooth physiologic transition to the professional arena. Significant differences between playing positions may develop further as cricket further engages within strength and conditioning practices, and therefore with the identification of specific positional requirements can provide practitioners with increased customized training program designs. Robust profiles of players will also assist in talent identification of emerging players. Long-term research will create a better understanding of the physiologic responses of players' in-match, which in turn could raise playing standards to even higher levels. It is essential, however, that the methods used to obtain such data are as accurate, reproducible, and ecologically valid as possible to optimize the progression of such specialist cricket-specific conditioning programs.

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fitness assessment; field based testing; elite sports performance

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