Cricket, a global sport played in over 100 countries, is watched by billions worldwide, and elite players can earn multimillion dollar contracts annually (11,28,31). Recent increased interest in the sport has led to further professionalization of elite, or first-class, performers who can play high volumes of matches (n = 100 days approximately) in a calendar year (20,43). With 3 established formats of the game, Twenty-twenty (T20) being a 3-hour match, One day (OD) match lasting 6–7 hours, and Multi-day (MD) matches played between 3 and 5 days, differing physical qualities may be needed by performers (48,49,68). Cricket players will have a distinct role in the team, either batting or bowling (i.e., fast, medium, or slow speed), and fitness qualities are developed by strength and conditioning coaches based on these roles.
Fast bowlers are attracting increasing interest with regard to research in cricket because successful performance is linked to teams with these higher “rated” individuals (55,68,69). Although fast bowlers are vital elements in the cricket team, they typically have the shortest careers in comparison with their peers (19), and as such, previous research in this population has had a biomechanical focus linked to injury avoidance and prevention (4,12,17). The lack of physiological performance-related evidence has led to a hypothetical view of the fast bowler, with a “typical” fast bowler completing approximately 60 bowling episodes of upper- and lower-body high-intensity actions in a 10-over spell, covering approximately 1.9 km in 5.3 minutes of discontinuous bowling activity (43,64). A move to address this lack of information has seen recent data presented in cross-sectional player anthropometric and physiological profile investigations (30,57,66), movement analysis articles (15,51), and initial investigations of the physiology of bowling (7,14,40).
Within a “fast” bowling group, subdivisions related to speed of delivery are commonly applied: fast, fast-medium, and medium-fast. Glazier et al. (24) reported that elite-level fast bowlers deliver the ball between 36 and 40.5 m·s−1 (129–145.8 km·h−1) or in rare “express” bowlers >40.5 m·s−1 (>145.8 km·h−1). Although the aforementioned descriptors are often used, the lack of standardization in this area makes cross-research data comparisons difficult.
Therefore, the incomplete evidence base for the fast bowler is leading to conditioning programs and in-match advice being based on anecdotal or hypothetical data (14,55). With the professionalization and subsequent increased volume of matches in cricket, it is essential that performers have appropriate bespoke training strategies to perform optimally, although the latter has not always occurred (11,28,30,48). If strength and conditioning professionals are to have impact on performance, they must have evidence-based intervention strategies, and this review aims to present the available evidence to date with regard to fast bowling in cricket.
Physical Attributes Associated With Fast Bowling
Effective fast bowlers need to maintain speed and accuracy of delivery during performance, which has been linked to a number of factors including anthropometrics, body composition, bowling action, and run-up speed (55,68).
Within the elite fast bowling population, fast bowlers possess a tall stature ranging between 1.83 and 1.92 m (14,24,53,57,66), which is higher when compared with data on batsmen (1.76–1.85 m) (8,27,30) and a comparable general male population (mean, 1.77–1.78 m) (1,42). The tall stature for fast bowlers could be perceived as a positive variable in terms of delivery release angle, bounce of ball from the pitch, and force production (24,45,57,66). It has been argued that a natural selection process has occurred (45), and data support the evidence of the wider benefit of increased stature because 80% of leading elite test match bowlers, categorized by number of wickets taken, are over 1.83 m (10,19). Such applied information seems valuable to exercise scientists and coaches alike, although with the varieties of bowling technique, this has led to questions regarding the importance of this variable and its effect on performance (e.g., increase speed of delivery and variety of bounce) (66,69). Historically, fast bowlers suffer the highest injury rates within the sport, with the lower back and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint being of main site of interest (17,26). Research on injury status of adolescent baseball pitchers suggests that the injured cohort were taller and heavier than the control group (46). Exercise specialists could look to other comparable sports for evidence, and in this case, they should be aware that taller athletes, especially younger maturing performers, with longer limbs may have specific conditioning and prehabilitation needs relating to technique development, training, practice, and associated strength gains.
Bowling Arm Length
It has been suggested that bowling arm length could be a key anthropometrical trait in relation to achieving high delivery speeds (24), although subsequent contradictory research did not support this finding (57,66,69). In theory, the findings of Glazier et al. (24) should hold some credibility because the linear velocity of a point on a lever undergoing angular rotation is proportional to the angular velocity and the radius of rotation. Because the bowling arm may be considered a quasi-rigid lever during the bowling action, for a given angular velocity, a longer arm would produce faster velocity of the wrist. Although the theory sounds logical, a longer arm will mean greater moment of inertia of that segment meaning greater resistance to rotation. Moreover, unlike the work of Pyne et al. (57) and Stuelcken et al. (66), Glazier et al. (24) did not use first-class performers, and the sample was relatively small (n = 9), which casts some doubt as to the application of their outcomes. With regard to bowling quickly, it seems that other variables may play a more important role in the generation of speed by the bowler (66). Practically, considering the requirements of the arm action during bowling, strength and conditioning coaches could develop the supporting musculature of the glenohumeral joint as at the very least, this may reduce shoulder-related overuse injury (26), which will increase the time the performer is available for selection. As noted previously, looking to research from sports with similar movement patterns and intensities (46) may also provide evidence to adapt into cricket-specific training and recovery activities. Moreover, arm length could be posited as a variable for talent identification; although the latter may not specifically be within the remit of strength and conditioning coaches, this information may be used within an organization when selecting talented performers.
Within fast bowling, participants with higher ball release speeds have been shown to possess a greater anterior-posterior chest depth, a lean upper body, and large arm girths (55,57,65,66). The bowling action involves humerus circumduction, using the pectorals major and latissimus dorsi and the deltoid muscles. The biceps brachii are active during the bowling action stabilizing the elbow and glenohumeral joint, along with the rotator cuff muscles (66). Force production from the upper body influences bowling technique and could account for between 36 and 45% of variance in bowling speed (55,57,66). Increased muscularity of the upper body in performers stems from conditioning programs that stimulate those muscle groups and adaptation to the game demands. Training literature notes a commonly held view of a proportional relationship between muscle force production and cross-sectional area of a muscle (5,38,56), confirming that strength and conditioning coaches should educate and raise awareness in players of the importance of the role of lean muscle tissue in relevant musculature to help generate higher and more consistent bowling speeds.
The Bowling Action and Technique
Delivery speed can be affected by variations in the bowlers' run up speed, distance traveled, and bowling action adopted (69). Run-up length has been associated (r = 0.70) with mean speed of the delivery, and run-up speed could have an effect of up to 16% on ball release speed (14,18,24). Data are clouded by studies using both first-class and non–first-class fast bowlers, that identify run-up lengths ranging between 15.2 and 17.7 m and mean run-up velocity ranging between 17 and 21.6 km·h−1, with higher velocities recorded (∼22 km·h−1) in the last 5 m before delivery (7,14,18,65). Performers who bowled at higher speeds seem to have a faster final 5 m of the run-up (r = 0.72), and evidence presented from international performance level suggests that faster bowlers have a faster run-up (63,69). However, the relationship between bowling speed, run-up length, and bowling action are yet to be resolved because somewhat conflictingly, run-up speed must be balanced against the technical action, rhythm, and momentum that influence the bowlers' approach to the wicket (14,63,68). Variations of bowling techniques have previously been reported (22, 55) with run-up speed altering with the type of technique adopted. In comparison with a traditional sideways on bowler, bowlers with a front-on and mixed bowling action allow for higher approach speeds, which may be possible because of the position that the bowler can or needs to adopt at the start of the delivery action (i.e., back foot impact) (7,18,24). The uncertain intertwinement of technique and physical evidence may leave the skill-based coach and conditioning coach requiring more clarity on this issue to provide complementary advice to improve performance.
Practically, fast bowlers require controlled rhythmical linear speed, and strength and conditioning coaches can facilitate the development of this motor skill attribute through technical coaching, which develops the appropriate neurological system (5,29,47). Physiologically, as part of a planned training program, engaging the appropriate fast twitch muscle fibers through progressive heavy load strength development in the associated major muscles groups is a well-documented training strategy for enhancing speed (5,38,56). When appropriate, Olympic lifts and their derivatives can be used to develop acceleration and speed providing the necessary triple extension and eccentric-concentric overload training stimulus linked to ankle and knee stiffening, which is deemed preferable for effective speed development (9,60). Strength and conditioning professionals can use best practice from other sports to assist in optimizing this fitness quality until such a time when sport-specific evidence becomes widely available.
Front Knee Angle
Within the final stages of the bowling action, it is documented that there could be a relationship between a straighter more extended front knee (e.g., >150°) during ball release and higher delivery speeds (36,57,63,69). Portus et al. (54) noted that during front foot contact, a more extended front knee may allow for better transfer of kinetic energy. However, this promising trait could also be associated with increased injury incidence because more impact force (e.g., 5–9 times the body mass) is absorbed by the soft tissues and the lower back (54,55). Effective lower-body strength, specifically eccentric strength, could assist in maintaining an extended front knee and also assist in withstanding the impact forces that occur when the front foot lands during bowling (17,44). In comparison to batsmen, bowlers on average possess higher levels of leg power achieving greater values in vertical jump tests (30), and lower-body power is considered a partial predictor of bowling speed within first-class bowlers (57). It is unclear if greater levels of lower-body power noted are achieved through game play or planned conditioning because if the former is true, there is scope to develop this physical trait further. Optimum levels for lower-body strength qualities are unclear, although eccentric strength development could be a beneficial area that the conditioning coach develops as it may be a determining factor in achieving faster bowling speeds (69). Varying methods for lower-body eccentric strength development are available to the coach including supramaximal loading, increasing time the muscles are in eccentric tension, or intrarep isometric pauses completed at functional joint angles (67). These activities would be part of a wider training program during a hypertrophy phase out of season because of the myofilament damage, delayed onset of muscle soreness, and the subsequent increased recovery time performers would need after eccentric training (56,67).
To summarize, the interrelated physical and technical attributes of the bowling action has led to multivariable models being developed in an attempt to predict performance, although collectively these models are inconclusive because of the participant selection and varying methodologies used (24,36,57,61,69). Clarity of what the most important variable or combination of variables to include in a performance model is yet to be established. The relative value of effective technical sequencing of the bowling action (22,53,63), in which the skill-based coaching specialists may focus on, and the physical attributes (57), in which the strength and conditioning coach will influence, are still to be confirmed. This latter scenario identifies the requirement for the wider sports science support team to work in an interdisciplinary manner to enhance a players' performance. However, research has shown that upper-body muscularity, run-up speed, and eccentric strength are important physical attributes required for fast bowling; therefore, strength and conditioning coaches should incorporate exercises specifically focused on improving these aspects.
Physiological Fitness Profile of Fast Bowlers
In comparison with other team sports such as rugby (16,23) and soccer (37,59), there is limited information on fitness profiles from first-class bowlers and cricket players generally. Previously, international cricket players have recorded similar aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels as professional international rugby union players (3,43), although a current full physiological profile of elite fast bowlers has yet to be established. When physiological data are noted, most investigators present this information as a secondary technicality and subsequent protocols used are not always explicit, therefore, limiting comparability of the data.
Examples of data on fast bowlers include predicted V[Combining Dot Above]O2max between 50.6 and 62.7 ml·kg−1·min−1 (14,30,62), which is similar to professional players in rugby union (16) and soccer (58), although the latter reported a higher upper range (75 ml·kg−1·min−1); vertical jump values ranged 0.32–0.43 m (14,57), which are lower than values reported in soccer (0.48–0.60 m) (58) and rugby union and rugby league (0.45–0.56 m) (16,23), respectively; and bench press throws (75.1 ± 11.7 cm) and deltoid throws (50.5 ± 9.4 cm) using a 9-kg loaded bar within a Smith machine (57) have also been reported, although they have limited comparability to other studies. International teams are now subscribing to more formal fitness screening procedures (2,21); yet, these data are yet to appear in the public domain. Unlike in other sports (16,23,58), the intermittent depth of reporting of the methodology limits intersport and intrasport comparisons, hindering the establishment of bowling-specific normative values that would be valuable for conditioning coaches when planning progressive training programs.
Recently applied Global Positioning Systems (GPS) data have allowed for further analysis of position-specific demands in cricket. Global Positioning Systems data note that fast bowlers cover approximately 22 km in a single day of an MD cricket match, approximately 13 km in an OD match, and approximately 5.5 km in a T20 match (49). Moreover, in comparison with other members of the cricket team, fast bowlers have a greater number of high-intensity (>14.4 km·h−1) activities and less time to recover between these events in all formats of the game (49,51,52). This type of technology and associated data are becoming more accessible, therefore allowing the strength and conditioning coach to begin to differentiate between playing positions based on physical workloads and establish bespoke training and recovery strategies within a competitive season. Additionally, current conditioning practices do not always match the physical intensity required (48), and without comprehensive long-term fitness profiles of fast bowlers, exercise professionals still have limited evidence to build long-term programs for players, limiting development.
Physiological Responses When Bowling
With technological advancements in physiological monitoring equipment, data collected during performance allow for more bespoke and potentially more ecologically valid training interventions to occur (32,34). Investigations into physiological responses during fast bowling have revolved around participants bowling a predetermined number of overs while the maintenance of the bowling action, physiological fatigue, and/or accuracy of the deliveries are monitored. Reviewing peer-reviewed literature from the past 25 years, with an inclusion criteria of studies having ≥5 participants and a minimum of 1 physiological measure being collected (e.g., heart rate, temperature), research examining physiological responses to fast bowling is limited to 8 studies (Table 1). Considering the latter criteria, only 1 study (49) identified did not use simulated bowling environments to collect data (i.e., used in-match data), which means that competitive (i.e., in-match) ecologically valid evidence for the conditioning coach to develop physical capacities of performers is sparse. Moreover, within the research identified (Table 1), simulated bowling activity duration has lacked consistency, with 12 overs (7), 6 overs (65), and 2 × 6-over spells (14) being arbitrarily applied and seemingly linked to anecdotal evidence from competitive matches. Confirmation of bowling spells from competitive match data is needed to corroborate the length of bowling events selected in future simulated research, which may improve the ecological validity of the data collected and therefore its application for exercise professionals working within the field.
The most reported physiological measure, heart rate, seems to respond to the intermittent increments, decrements, and rest periods associated with the bowling activity. Burnett et al. (7) identified a heart rate range between 163 ± 11 b·min−1 to a peak of 176 ± 12 b·min−1, equating to 80.3 and 84.7% of theoretical maximum heart rate (i.e., 220 − age), respectively, which was similar to the data noted in first-class performers (14). These peak heart rates are sustained for relatively short periods and relate to the high-intensity physical work when bowling is occurring (43). Different heart rate data have previously been reported (13,25,65); however, the participants, environmental conditions, and lack of information with regard to bowlers' run-up (i.e., speed and length) and delivery speeds may partly explain the variation in the data reported (Table 1).
In the limited studies where blood lactate was measured, a mean of 4.8 mmol·L−1 (7) and a peak mean blood lactate of 5.0 ± 1.5 mmol·L−1 was reported (14). Duffield et al. (14) detail that bowlers with longer run-ups and/or faster run-up speeds had higher lactate levels (r = 0.60), although blood lactate is not accumulating significantly during the bowling spell(s) suggesting that metabolically performers recover between deliveries or bowling spells. Furthermore, it is also reported that blood glucose decreases (6.3–5.5 mmol·L−1) before test to the end of a second bowling spell intimating that specific nutritional support is required if high performance is to be maintained (14). Recently, Minett et al. (39,40) have investigated cooling strategies on physiological responses of fast bowlers, suggesting a benefit from the process by reducing “thermal demands” on the body (Table 1). There seems to be an agreement that medium-fast bowling activity of up to 12 overs does not lead to a decline in bowling speeds or accuracy in temperate environmental conditions (7,14,40). Despite the variety of methodologies used, this collection of data starts to provide some evidence for the strength and conditioning coach to consider the metabolic demands and possible training strategies for the fast bowlers if high performance is to be maintained.
In summary, there seems to be bowling-related increases in heart rate, suggesting repeated intermittent cardiovascular stress over the length of the bowling spell (14). Exercise professionals could monitor in-match performance heart rates where it is possible to understand how this changes during bowling and develop appropriate cardiovascular training routines. Although an increase in blood lactate is noted, no significant accumulation occurs, suggesting that the role of the anaerobic metabolic system is moderate, with both the ATP-PC and glycolysis pathways contributing to the bowling event(s) (7,14,65), which is valuable information for planning metabolic training sessions. The absolute time engaged within high-intensity bowling coupled with the between-over recovery and intermittent nature of the activity may explain the latter outcome; however, the act of fast bowling leads to fatigue, and the causes and specific markers of this have been debated. Noakes and Durrandt (43) noted the theoretical concept of physiological fatigue mechanisms within cricket and suggest that the “classic models” of cardiovascular-anaerobic energy depletion and energy supply-depletion do not explain the fatigue that may occur in cricket. Fast bowlers do enter repetitive high-intensity acceleration-deceleration (i.e., eccentric muscle action) episodes that could lead to specific muscular fatigue because of altered muscle action, recruitment, and firing, which may link to the loss of elastic energy element within muscle (14,41). Moreover, increased levels of markers associated with muscle damage (i.e., creatine kinase) and inflammation (i.e., C-reactive protein) have been reported after bowling, but this biochemical evidence is still in its infancy (14,39,41,43). After bowling, player fatigue and recovery between consecutive days of play is appearing to be an important issue to manage. The ability to withstand repetitive eccentric muscle action, especially seen during bowling, within the lower-body seems to be increasingly important and should be specifically conditioned within a wider strength program. Without further research collecting in-match data specific mechanisms of fatigue within the fast bowler will remain speculative.
In-Match Physiological Data
As physiological monitoring technology advances, devices become more reliable, valid, and unobtrusive to wear, and data that are captured during competitive matches could be considered to improve ecological validity for exercise specialists (32–34,50). To date, there appears to be only 2 studies that have completed physiological in-match monitoring of first-class performers. Petersen et al. (49) monitored in-match heart rate response of fast bowlers, although the data were restricted to T20 cricket and were part of a wider study focusing on movement patterns (Table 1). Additionally, a conference article also assessed heart rate response, focusing on OD cricket, although data were limited to only 2 first-class participants (31). Even though these limited novel data were collected in different formats of the shorter game, fast bowlers' mean heart rates were similar, although peak heart rates reported were approximately 10 b·min−1 higher in T20 cricket (Table 1). Considering the sparse data set, interestingly within the context of fast bowling, this in-match data note similar peak heart rates but lower mean heart rates that are presented within the simulated bowling research (7,14).
The differences noted in the heart rate data between the in-match and simulated events may have wider implications on the ecological validity of the data collected in the latter environment and how strength and conditioning coaches may interpret evidence for practical use. Additionally, the varying match formats now played within cricket and match timings associated with each also require clarification within physiological monitoring research. It could be argued that basing conditioning programs for fast bowlers on evidence collected from simulated data may not be appropriate with physical training programs in cricket not matching the game demands (48). Once a credible base of literature is developed, which can corroborate the validity of simulated bowling events or a move occurs to use new technology within assessment of in-match physiological responses, exercise scientists and strength conditioning coaches may be able to draw more evidence-based conclusions about physical demands on players and associated performance.
Limitations of Physiological Monitoring and Recommendations for Future Research
Simulated bowling research attempts to recreate a real match format, where access to performers within competitive first-class matches and unobtrusive monitoring technology has not seemingly been available. These simulated events use equivalent match timings (i.e., overs per hour) and require players to perform as per match conditions in an attempt to increase the ecological validity of the research setting, although some aspects of these methods used could be questioned. For example, after the participant has bowled 1 over from a set of overs, to replicate a real competitive match, between-over fielding activities were completed (14). These between-over activities do not always note sufficient detail with regard to the actual activities and physical intensity participants worked at, as researchers crudely estimate this because there are little or no data reported from competitive matches for this period. Paradoxically, information associated with physiological recovery between overs (i.e., not bowling) during the match may be a crucial variable in relation to performance in the next over(s). Anecdotal observations from matches suggest that between each over, fast bowlers are normally positioned in the field where it is least likely there will be significant fielding activity (i.e., physical work) to facilitate recovery for their next over. The value of this between-over, or “off the ball,” period is only now being considered in relation to recovery (40) and could be an important research area for conditioning coaches to investigate with regard to physiological fatigue and bowling performance.
Additionally, simulated bowling research has mainly concentrated on short-term performance and can only be applied to the shorter forms (e.g., OD or T20) of the game. An exception to this is Minett et al. (39,40), who assessed data on bowling performance on 2 consecutive days. Gore et al. (25) collected simulated data over 3 seasons, although in the main, little attempt because of logistical reasons has been made to assess physiological responses in bowlers across longer MD bowling events. Even though MD cricket is still a key game format, considering cricket's somewhat intermittent historical engagement with exercise science research (6), it is unsurprising that the area of physical responses and bowling performance over MD remains unknown.
Research collated within the area of fast bowling has used a variety of subjects linked to the speed of delivery these individuals can produce. As noted, elite-level bowlers classed as fast have been reported to deliver the ball >40.5 m·s−1 (>145.8 km·h−1) (24), although identifying and then accessing performers who fulfill, or partially fulfill, this latter bowling trait is difficult. When reviewing the available research, the quality of data is partially limited by the access to appropriately skilled participants who meet the bowling speed criteria, which in turn may restrict the results' wider application and usefulness. At present, first-class/professional cricketers have been used in only 3 studies where bowling speeds were reported (34.2–35.3 m·s−1; 123–127 km·h−1) (14,39,57). The use of a lesser standard and/or skilled cricketers as participants has been common, which produces lower bowling delivery speeds (i.e., 104.8–115.6 km·h−1), and therefore non–first-class physiological performance data are reported (7,13,24,55). Moreover, participant numbers within these studies are low (n < 10) except for Portus et al. (54) (n = 14), Elliot et al. (18) (n = 15), and Pyne et al. (57). These issues highlight the difficulty of accessing elite performers, which may not be unique to just cricket but may well limit the application of some research for conditioning specialists working at the performance level.
In summary, the limited subject numbers, diverse skill level, different game, formats and broad disparity in bowling speeds noted across research may affect the quality of knowledge gained and therefore the application of training strategies to the higher levels of performance. If fast bowling is to be fully investigated and further advances are to be made in training, performance, and recovery, accessing appropriate participants who operate at the highest level should be a key research aim.
Research has a great potential to influence professional practice in cricket (35). Further work is required confirming key physiological variables and their relationship with technical aspects of bowling for more effective predictive multivariable models, allowing strength and conditioning coaches to work with skill-based coaches to further facilitate performance. As the literature base is still relatively shallow within cricket, strength and conditioning coaches could look to research completed in other similar sports to shape practice and inform interventions until further sport-specific evidence is published.
From the available evidence, fast bowling is an intermittent high-intensity activity that is primarily fueled anaerobically, with heart rates increasing with bowling performance, although match-related nonbowling or off the ball periods allow recovery to occur. Performers need a well-developed anaerobic metabolic system to maintain this intermittent activity pattern, which could continue for 60 minutes or more. The off the ball nonbowling period has yet to be fully investigated and could be a key avenue for strength and conditioning coaches to explore more efficient recovery strategies potentially leading to improved performances.
Unsurprisingly, the act of fast bowling is not linked to a single physical variable, but the evidence suggests that the conditioning coach should plan a progressive periodized strength gain program with a specific focus on the muscle groups of the upper body used for bowling but also the lower body which must withstand repetitive high-intensity muscular work. Specifically, lower-body eccentric muscle strength could be a key trait for the fast bowler because it is noted both from a technical viewpoint (i.e., maintaining an extended front leg) and physiologically as a fatiguing mechanism associated with this sporting activity.
Strength and conditioning coaches should consider the advent of new unobtrusive monitoring technology that will allow for more in-match monitoring of performance, meaning more ecologically valid data can be captured leading to bespoke training programs being developed. This technology could allow for a complete insight in to the physical requirements of fast bowling across the different game formats and over consecutive days of play. Coaches who do not have access to GPS or multivariable technology can use more basic monitoring techniques (i.e., heart rate monitors, accelerometers) and rudimentary match data (i.e., deliveries bowled) to identify in-match workloads and therefore manage players' recovery and training. Therefore, in-match data physiological investigation should be a priority to help exercise scientists and conditioning coaches quantify the physical demands of fast bowling, which will aid in the development of more specific training programs and may lead to enhanced recovery, reduced injury occurrence, improved performance, and extended playing careers.
No sources of funding were used in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are relevant to the content of this review.
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