The role that the physical condition of fast bowlers plays in terms of performance and injury prevention has been of concern for strength and conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, sports doctors, coaches, commentators, journalists, and administrators. Little scientific attention has been undertaken in the area, and therefore the implementation of conditioning programs with a focus on performance and injury prevention can only rely on task analysis, educated opinion, and best practice from other sports. Considering this, the following article reviews literature to help inform best practice regarding the conditioning needs of the cricket fast bowler (34). In this article, the biomechanics of the bowling action, injury surveillance data, predictors of injury, and the implications of these topics on strength and conditioning practice are discussed.
The studies under consideration for this review were drawn from peer-reviewed journal publications, conference proceedings, or books. Varying combinations of the keywords “strength and conditioning,” “biomechanics,” “time motion analysis/GPS,” “injury,” “predictors,” “ball release speed,” “testing,” “periodization” with the terms “cricket,” or “fast bowlers” were used to filter relevant research from electronic databases such as Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, PubMed, and SportDiscus. Significantly, more hits were found (more than 100 hits) through the Google Scholar searches as opposed to the electronic databases (1–30 hits), but the electronic database hits were far more specific to the search topic. Reference list referral was an equally important search strategy. Studies were included in the review if the investigation used any strength and conditioning or injury prevention procedure that was used for fast bowling within cricket.
BIOMECHANICS OF BOWLING ACTION
Bowling in cricket involves a run-up and the circumduction of a straight arm about the glenohumeral joint to propel a leather ball of 155.9–163.0 g at a batter, who stands some distance away (approximately 17–18 m or 22 yards) (17). This action of bowling can be divided into 2 distinct phases: the run-up and delivery stride that includes predelivery stride (14).
Run-up speed has become a major focal point for cricket coaches given the strong (r = 0.58) to very strong (r = 0.74) relationship of run-up velocity and ball release speed (18). For example, Duffield et al. (2009) found a strong (r = 0.52) to very strong (r = 0.70) positive relationship between the faster that a bowler's velocity is during the final 5-meters of their run-up and ball speed. The faster the bowler's velocity in the final 5 m of the run-up, the faster the ball speed.
The findings of Salter et al. (2007) also supported the importance of run-up speed; these researchers reported that run-up velocity was an important determinant of ball release speed in a single bowler case study. Elliot and Foster (1984) considered that run-up speed should be sufficient to produce a high linear velocity while allowing the correct delivery technique to be adopted. To support this, Glazier et al. (2000) concluded that bowling actions that permitted faster horizontal velocity in the final stride were associated with faster ball speeds (21). A higher linear velocity in the run-up is desirable if: (a) that momentum can be transferred through the delivery stride and body to the ball, (b) it does not put the bowler at undue risk of injury because of excessively higher impact forces caused by an increased run-up velocity, and (c) the bowlers delivery stride biomechanics are not adversely effected (15,34,37). Noting these 3 provisions, it may be concluded that improving running mechanics could help improve a bowler's performance and bowling speed (37).
Researchers have shown that the stride before delivery (predelivery stride) is longer than a normal stride. This is caused by the apparent necessity to decelerate in the final stride and is probably associated with greater braking forces and the need to “gather” for the final thrust (1).
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IMPLICATIONS FOR THE “RUN-UP”
The fact that run-up speed, and specifically the speed in the final 5 m of the run-up, has been shown to affect ball speed means that strength and conditioning coaches can directly influence the ball velocity of a fast bowler. If appropriate for an individual bowler, strength and conditioning coaches can work with coaches to improve running technique, power, and speed to first increase the maximum running speed of the bowler and then to transfer that running speed into their run-up. This enables some direction as where to start and what goals to concentrate on early in the fast bowler's development. The younger the age of an athlete, the more favorable it is for the development of the movement patterns needed for sport (27). This means the younger and earlier that coaches and strength and conditioning coaches can start making changes to an athlete's running technique, the more chance they have in improving the athlete's maximum speed, and subsequent ball delivery speed.
Although running speed and speed development is important for every athlete, it should be noted that it is very important for strength and conditioning coaches to work with bowling coaches and other specialists when changing a bowler's run-up speed. Many factors should be considered before altering run-up speed, such as: (a) whether the athlete has developed enough strength to handle the increased ground reaction forces that they will incur if the final 5-meter running speed is increased, (b) whether the extra speed will affect bowling technique/accuracy, and (c) whether the extra ball speed will be a benefit or a hindrance to the bowler's performance. Furthermore, final run-up speed only accounts for 30–50% (11) of ball speed variance, therefore it is important to understand that there are other factors that influence the final ball speed.
Deceleration from running requires large amounts of eccentric strength through the legs (42) and is often something that is overlooked by many strength and conditioning coaches. This coupled with plyometric bilateral (double-leg) and unilateral (single-leg) training needs to be undertaken in all specific bowling strength programs. This will help to prepare the bowler for the stresses associated with the predelivery stride by conditioning them to large eccentric forces and single-leg nature of this predelivery stride.
There are 4 bowling techniques or actions that have been used to classify the bowling actions of fast bowlers during the delivery stride (the final stride before ball release). They are the mixed, side-on, semi-open, or front-on action (16,20,35). These actions have been explained and expanded further by Portus et al. (2000) as the following (13,34):
A shoulder segment angle <210° at back foot contact, a hip-shoulder separation angle <30° at back foot contact, and shoulder counter-rotation <30° (Figure 1A).
A shoulder segment angle from 210 to 240° at back foot contact, a hip-shoulder separation angle <30° at back foot contact, and shoulder counter-rotation <30° (Figure 1B).
A shoulder segment angle >240° at back foot contact, a hip-shoulder separation angle <30° at back foot contact, and shoulder counter-rotation <30° (Figure 1C).
A hip-shoulder separation angle ≥30° at back foot contact or shoulder counter-rotation ≥30° (Figure 2).
The mixed action bowler has a more laterally flexed and hyperextended trunk at front foot impact and a body position further from the upright orientation at ball release (4). A great deal of research has investigated bowling biomechanics and injury (3,13,14,20,22). One of the strongest relationships reported is between the classification of the different bowling techniques and lower back injury, specifically, the relationship between the mixed bowling action and lower back injuries (1,2,13,35,37). Portus (35) reported that shoulder counter-rotation (excessive amounts being a feature of the mixed bowling action) was significantly higher in a group of bowlers that incurred a stress fracture when compared with a no trunk injury group.
In the legal delivery of a fast ball, large ground reaction forces are produced first by the back foot contact with the ground and second by the front foot contact with the ground (24). Several studies have assessed the ground reaction forces of front foot contact. They have reported a range of mean peak vertical forces between 3.8 and 12 times the body weight, with mean peak braking forces between 1.4 and 4.5 times the body weight (12–15,20,24,29,35). Furthermore, mean peak horizontal forces on the back foot were in the range 2.0–4.9 times the body weight, with mean peak braking forces between 1.0–1.1 times the body weight (12,35). Bartlett et al. (1996) suggested that a large initial peak ground reaction force during front foot contact, together with lateral flexion, hyperextension, and rotation of the lower back, could be a major cause of lower back injuries.
Front foot contact has attracted research interest because of the relationship between knee angle and ball release speed. If the front knee is extended during the delivery stride, it acts as a lever and has a positive influence on ball release speed. If it flexes, then it acts as a shock absorber and has a negative effect on ball release speed (21). A straight leg technique with a front knee angle of >150° is thought to be the most advantageous in generating higher ball release velocities (1,15). A technique that flexes and extends during the front foot phase has been recommended (43). Although a straight leg technique can produce greater ball release speeds, it is also a potential injury risk. When the front leg is more flexed, the muscle structure absorbs the energy or pressure that is being transferred. Although that energy is lost in terms of performance, it does mean that the bowler's ankles, knees, hips, back, etc., do not endure the same load (6,35).
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IMPLICATIONS FOR THE “DELIVERY STRIDE”
The relationship between the mixed bowling action and lower back injuries means that strength and conditioning coaches need to become aware of the bowling actions of their fast bowlers. Although there should be a focus on core conditioning for all fast bowlers as their trunk must flex, extend, laterally flex, and rotate, it would seem logical to have a major concentration on strengthening and therefore supporting the lower back region of the bowlers who use the mixed action. This also brings to attention the lack of specific research on strength and conditioning regarding specific bowling actions. It is understood that the mixed action bowling group is more prone to injury and specifically lower back injury. This group of athletes requires specific conditioning that is different compared with what is needed for other bowling actions. Rotational training where the muscle structures responsible for creating rotation are strengthened and conditioned specifically is something that could help with this. Rotation and counter-rotation is an action that occurs throughout all the bowling actions yet there is a lack of understanding and knowledge as to how strength and conditioning coaches can use rotational training to help performance and reduce injury. It would seem logical that rotational conditioning is part of a fast bowler's conditioning program. However, it needs to be understood to what level these areas need to be conditioned and what specific exercises help reduce injury and increase performance.
The large ground reaction forces that the fast bowler deals with through the delivery stride are undoubtedly a major contributor to the high injury rates. To withstand these forces, a large amount of leg strength, and specifically eccentric leg strength, is needed to help with the absorption of those forces. Future investigations are needed to direct us toward the strength requirements/thresholds that are needed to align with the specific ground reaction forces of a bowler. For example, for bowlers who represent 9 body weights of vertical ground reaction forces at delivery, can a strength value be aligned with this? If the bowlers can achieve this value, does this reduce the likelihood of injury? Second, what other specific physical attributes are needed by the athlete to withstand these ground reaction forces?
Being aware of the angle of the knee at front foot contact of the delivery stride also has implications to the programming of a bowler's resistance program. The leg needs to be eccentrically strong so that the bowler's body can decelerate quickly (25), thus allowing an increased transmission of forces from the legs through the core and upper body for ball release. Although no research has found a significant relationship, it would seem logical that reactive strength of the leg is also an important consideration for the fast bowler's resistance program. During the front foot impact, the front knee needs to eccentrically flex and then concentrically extend before ball release (18). Further research needs to be undertaken to assess first, the relationship between reactive strength and ball speed and second, the trainability of the bowlers in this area so that performance can be improved.
Orchard et al. (2002) have examined injury statistics concluding that 1-day internationals have an average injury prevalence (average number of squad members not available for selection through injury for each match, divided by the total number of squad members) of 10%. Injury prevalence was higher in pace bowlers (14%) than in spin bowlers (4%), batsmen (4%), and wicket keepers (2%). They reported that the major risk factors for injury were: the speed at which the bowler delivers the ball; bowlers who had bowled a high number of match overs in the week before a match (more than 20); if the bowler had a large number of days of play leading up to a match; and bowling second (batting first) in a match (30). Orchard et al. (33) as a continuation from their original 2002 article, found that fast bowlers miss, through injury, about 16% of all potential playing time compared with all other playing positions that miss <5%.
A study by Mansingh et al. (2006) investigated the injuries of West Indian cricketers through the 2003–2004 seasons. They found that most injuries were sustained in test matches, and that first class (4 day cricket) and test matches (5 day cricket) led to 40% of all injuries. Of the remainder, 32% were in 1-day matches and the other 28% occurred in training. T20 cricket was not mentioned (28).
Orchard et al. (31) reviewed injury statistics over a 10-year period, until the 2007–2008 season. Injury incidence (the number of injuries occurring per match or per season) remained at a fairly constant level over the 10-year survey period. Injury prevalence (the percentage of players missing through injury in a given time) has gradually increased over the 10-year period in line with increases in scheduling. This does not necessarily mean that injuries have increased. This could mean that athletes are missing more playing time, because of a compressed schedule, for the same amount of time any given injury requires for rehabilitation and return to sport. Therefore, as the schedule increases, so does the injury prevalence. Considering this, Orchard et al. discussed the implications that the advent of T20 cricket had on injury incidence and prevalence of fast bowlers. They suggested that if there was no reduction in first-class cricket and hence the schedule simply becomes fuller because of extra matches, there would be a statistical increase in injury rates. However, if there was a reduction in other forms of cricket to allow more T20 cricket to be played then, the injury rates of fast bowlers would be reduced, as in the case of T20 cricket, players do not get injured as much (31). This is due to the reduced workload of the bowlers in this form of the game (7,20,22,31,32).
Finch et al. (2009) reported that the incidence of bowling injuries increases with age in cricketers from the under-9 to under-16 level (5,19). These findings were supported by Shaw and Finch (2007) who also stated that injury frequency significantly increased up to the age of 16 (38). Research from Stretch (2003) and supporting research (19,38–40) showed that the younger players (up to 24 years) sustained more overuse (59.3%) and bowling (56.9%) injuries than the older players did. All 14 of the stress fractures sustained in the research occurred to the younger players, with 13 of these injuries attributed to bowling. This research suggests that injuries seem to be frequent until athletes reach the age of around 24 years (15,19,38–40).
A large percentage of bowling injuries involved the back (26.3%) or the lower limbs (14%) (40). This is supported by research that showed 22.8–50% of injuries occurred in the lower limbs (26,30,39,41) and 18–33% of the total amount of injuries in the trunk (26,39–41). Stretch (1995) reported that 56.1% of the total recovery time taken to return to sport was taken up by these 2 injury sites.
Stretch (2001) investigated the time of season when fast bowlers sustained these injuries. They reported that 45.3% of all the total bowling injuries occurred before or during the early part of the season (41).
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IMPLICATIONS FOR “INJURY STATISTICS”
The fact that a large percentage of injuries for fast bowlers occur before or during the early part of the season provides some insight and therefore direction to strength and conditioning programs. The program that has been undertaken has not developed the bowler's fitness to the desired level of conditioning. Therefore the bowlers are getting injured, the program is not getting them to the intensity level required and the jump in intensity from training to games is too much, or their bowling workload is increased too rapidly, irrespective of their strength and conditioning program and their body has not had the time for the required adaptation to withstand this extra bowling.
Similarly, some conclusions could be drawn from the fact that most injuries to fast bowlers occur in test or first-class cricket. This would again suggest that the extra load of the increased distance covered and higher bowling loads associated with the longer form of the game have caused a high prevalence of injury, because of the athlete not being conditioned to a level where they can handle that load. Obviously, more appropriate conditioning and careful scrutiny of bowling workloads need to occur.
The implication of the introduction of T20 cricket to the international and domestic schedules is yet to be fully understood. Future research is needed to address the issue of adding an extra format of cricket which reduces what was already a very small window of noncompetition training time that fast bowlers only sometimes get. Or, the other formats (1 day, test/4 day cricket) can be reduced to allow the inclusion of T20 cricket without affecting the noncompetition training time. If the off- or pre-season is reduced, then there needs to be a far greater emphasis on getting bowlers to the high levels of condition that are required by fast bowlers before they start their domestic or international careers, or only partly introducing these athletes into the playing program and creating the time needed to carry on their physical development. This demand for highly conditioned bowlers at earlier stages of their careers has created the increasing importance that international teams are placing around academies at a state/county/provincial level. This then means that the strength and conditioning during a player's adult career can mainly be based around maintenance rather than trying to improve conditioning levels while involved in a busy schedule.
Injury prevalence has slowly increased over the last 10 years along with the increase in scheduling (31), which suggests that strength and conditioning programs have not catered for the extra load that is placed on the bowlers through simply playing and training more. A major question that arises from this is whether we need to simply improve the level of condition of these bowlers or is it more of a periodizing issue where athletes, strength and conditioning coaches, and skills coaches need to introduce a periodized program that gives specific periods for rest, recovery, adaptation, and conditioning.
PREDICTORS OF INJURY
Although there has been limited international injury surveillance data, researchers have suggested that medium-fast and fast bowlers are the players who are at greatest risk of injury in cricket (10,30,33). The major concern is the overuse injuries sustained by bowlers. Bowling workload has been identified as a major predictor of bowling injury (22). Workload and its relationship to injury was formally studied in 1989, when Foster et al. (1989) stated that excessive bowling workload was related to lower back injuries in teenage fast bowlers. The authors concluded that bowling too many overs in any single spell and/or bowling too many spells may lead to back injuries to the bowler (20). Where an acute phase of bowling workload significantly exceeds a player's recent bowling workload, there is an increased risk of injury (7,8,32,33).
Dennis et al. (10) suggested that there were 2 distinct pathways of how these bowling overuse injuries occurred: (a) continuous excessive exposure to a pattern of loading caused tissue to weaken to the point of injury or (b) an otherwise normal load causes failure of the tissue that has already been weakened because of an existing injury. The research on bowling loads and injury is slowly expanding. A study by Dennis et al. (2003) of 90 fast or medium-fast bowlers found that: (a) bowlers with an average of fewer than 2 days, or 5 or more days between bowling sessions were at a significantly increased risk of injury, (b) players who on average bowled fewer than 40 deliveries per session may be at an increased risk of injury as compared with those bowlers who on average bowled more than 40 deliveries per session, and (c) bowlers with an average of fewer than 123 deliveries per week or more than 188 deliveries per week may be at an increased risk of injury (7). This was supported by Dennis et al. (2004) who also found that those bowlers who bowled in 5 or more sessions in any 7-day period may have been at 4.5 times the risk of sustaining injury.
A significant increase in deliveries per session was observed in the 8–21 days before the date of injury for the injured bowlers as compared with the average number of deliveries per session in the 8–21 days before the uninjured bowlers. Dennis et al. (2004) suggested that recent periods of high bowling workload, including bowling more than 5 sessions in a week or more than 520 match deliveries in a month, had a highly significant role in the occurrence of injury, which suggests that a sudden escalation in bowling workload should be avoided, especially if this increased workload is sustained (8). Some game-specific areas of risk and therefore predictors of injury are: (a) there is a greater risk of injury in the second innings of first-class matches (compared with the first innings), (b) a greater risk of injury in the second game of back-to-back matches, and (c) an increased risk of injury in the rare situation of enforcing the follow-on in a test match (33). These areas of risk can all be related to workload because they are all factors that increase the amount or frequency of bowling.
Orchard et al. (2009) found that the injury incidence after a high workload was at its worst between 14 and 28 days after the workload (peaking 21–28 days) and not in the 1–13 days directly preceding the high workload. Therefore, the penalty for an acute high workload may not be fully realized immediately after the load, but may occur up to a month after the acute increase in bowling workload. The reason for this was hypothesized that the damage occurring during bowling requires replacement of the damaged weaker tissue and then the repair of that tissue (32). This means that mature (old) tissue continues to function for short periods after the overload without loss of function. However, after a period when the natural process of tissue turnover has resulted in the breakdown of some of the mature (old) tissue, the tissue that was previously damaged breaks away and it takes time for tissue to be replaced adequately. It is during this time of turnover that injury susceptibility is increased (32). Interestingly, a study by Hulin et al. (23) found that the greater the increase in acute workload (i.e., fatigue) compared with chronic workload (i.e., fitness), the larger the injury risk is for the following week. This has major implications for strength and conditioning coaches and is discussed in the section below.
It is important to note that not only bowling workload but also technique and physical characteristics of fast bowlers may place them in a higher injury risk category. It has been found that fast bowlers who used the mixed action recorded the highest amount of lower back injuries. This is due to the excessive counter-rotation during the bowler's delivery stride (1,2,4,13,16,21,35,36). Other risk factors such as injury history, posture, anthropometric characteristics, footwear, and playing surfaces have also been linked to injury for fast bowler's (7). Dennis et al. (2008) also found that of 35 measures tested, only 2 were identified as independent predictors of injury. Reduced hip internal rotation on the back foot impact leg was associated with a significantly decreased risk of injury, and reduced ankle dorsiflexion on the front foot impact leg was associated with a significantly increased risk of injury (9).
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IMPLICATIONS FOR “PREDICTORS OF INJURY”
A significant amount of research has shown that an excessive bowling workload or spike in bowling workload is a major predictor of injury to fast bowlers. Strength and conditioning coaches, bowling coaches, the athletes themselves, and any others involved in the athlete's program need to collaborate and plan a progressive workload program where the bowler builds up their bowling loads to a suitable level of load and intensity that replicates the demands of competition as close as possible, while avoiding a spike or jump in load that might cause injury. The ideal period for this process is yet to be determined and should be the subject of further research. This loading program also needs to be factored into the wider conditioning plan. If a bowler is in a rest or lighter period of bowling but in a high-intensity phase with their physical conditioning, then the rest and adaption may not be significant enough to prevent injury.
The finding of injury incidence being at its worst between 14 and 28 days after a spike in bowling loads has very simple but significant implications and can be used as a guideline as to when the fast bowler needs to be in a rest or lighter phase of bowling after a spike in loads. During the 14–28 days, it is important to consider this as a light phase of training rather than as an off-phase or high-phase training. If the athlete carries on bowling and training at a high load and intensity, then the tissue will be at its weakest and therefore very susceptible to injury. If this time is considered as an off-period and no training or bowling takes place, then the athlete runs the risk of being deconditioned and susceptible to injury upon return or taking longer periods of time to return to the game than expected.
The findings of Hulin et al. (2013) are very significant for strength and conditioning coaches. As stated, the physical demands of cricket have only recently come to light. There is still a large history of cricket being perceived as a sport for which one need not be physically conditioned. As a result, we still have athletes who physically underprepare. This research highlights that if a fast bowler is underprepared, the chances of injury are significantly higher the week after a spike in bowling loads than the bowlers who are physically prepared, regardless of the findings of Orchard et al. (2009).
Injury prevalence was higher in pace bowlers than any other position in cricket. The major risk indicators for injury were: bowling action, the speed at which the bowler bowls; bowlers who had bowled a high number of match overs in the week before a match; if the bowler had a large number of days of play leading up to a match; and bowling second (batting first) in a match. Multi-day cricket sustained the highest percentage of injuries of all the formats. Injury prevalence has gradually increased in line with increases in scheduling of games. The suggested outcome of how the growing trend of T20 cricket will affect the injury rates of fast bowlers will depend on how T20 affects the schedule. If there is no reduction in multi-day and 1-day cricket and hence the schedule simply becomes more cluttered, there is no doubt there will be an increase in injury rates if player rotation policies are not implemented. However, if there is a reduction in other forms of cricket to allow more T20 cricket to be played, then the injury rates of fast bowlers will be reduced as they do not get injured as much in T20 cricket. Careful consideration to bowling workload plans, especially early in the season, needs to be a focus of coaches.
When measuring vertical ground reaction forces through the front foot of fast bowlers, mean peak forces between 3.8–12 times body weight were reported, with braking mean peak forces between 1.4 and 2.5 times body weight. In some instances, higher ball release speeds have been linked to longer upper and lower limb lengths, faster approach speeds, and a straighter front leg at delivery. In particular, the run-up of a fast bowler and how fast they are moving in the last 5 m of their run-up has been shown to affect the speed of delivery. Given this information, it would seem that increasing the run-up velocity of the fast bowler could be a desirable adaptation, provided other aspects for the bowling action and performance outcomes are not compromised. There also needs to be a concomitant increase in the strength of the trunk and leg musculature to absorb the probable increase in peak vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces.
The specific bowling technique of a fast bowler is normally of concern to skill coaches; but, because of the relationship between the mixed bowling action and lower back injuries, strength and conditioning coaches need to be aware of the specific bowling action with which the bowlers are working. These actions and the way they place stress on the body will significantly influence the amount and type of conditioning work that is undertaken with those bowlers.
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