Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cricket – should it come with a health warning?

The sad news that Kevin Pieterson’s Ashes are over combined with the realisation that it’s going to take an effort of almost Bert Trautmann proportions for Andrew Flintoff to drag himself through the rest of the summer has brought to attention the severe risk of serious injury the modern cricketer seemingly has to accept if he wants to ply his trade on the increasingly lucrative world stage.

Pieterson was a sad sight as he scratched his way to 40 at Lord’s, turning down easy twos and lacking his usual dominant self confidence. The fact that his achilles was so damaged seemed something of a shock to both him and us and various experts have confirmed risk of rupture could have meant the end of KP’s strutting permanently.

Freddy meanwhile showed almost super human strength in bowling a quite wondrous spell on Monday morning considering his various injuries. As this brilliant interactive guide on the Guardian’s website showed it’s a wonder he’s still walking let alone bowling at 90mph. Add all this to a rather gruesome description given by former England man Mark Butcher on the excruciating key hole knee surgery he’s face which I caught on 5 Live and it does make you think that cricket is actually pretty dangerous to long term health. The image of the England team limping back to their hotels not from the side effects of drink but rather a series of cortisone injections does not seem far from the truth and we have to look no further than the sad cases of Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Michael Vaughn to see how quickly injury can become terminal. For those of us who grew up with cricket in the late eighties, the image of poor David Lawrence writhing in agony after his knee popped is surely ingrained on the memory.

The best Cricket Injury research has come from Australia and reveals a worrying tendency to grit ones teeth and get through it. Cricket injuries at elite level in Australia have been demonstrated to occur at a rate of around 18 injuries in total for a squad of 25 players who play twenty matches in a season. On average, around 9% of cricketers have an injury at any given time, although in fast bowlers over 15% are injured at any given time.

Low back pain is particularly prevalent among younger fast bowlers. The repetitive action of bowling for long spells places excessive stress on the tissues of the lower back, where stress fractures of the vertebra (spondylolysis) can develop. It was this condition which caused Michael Atherton such problems and ensured a constant diet of stiffness, pain and 200 grams of voltarol a day. As Athers himself says “that’s a lot of tablets and a lot of damage to the stomach lining.”

Research has indicated that muscle injuries such as hamstring strains and side strains are the most common cricket injuries. These injuries are due to the functional demands of the sport where occasional sprinting and ball throwing may be repeated across a seven hour day.

This description of ‘occasional sprinting’ made me think of my own cricket career and the fact that as I’ve turned 30 things really are beginning to hurt more. I’ve spotted it in friends too whose complaints about shin splints, back ache, dodgy knees and the like are becoming as frequent as their complaints about dodgy umpires.

There was a time when it all seemed far more amusing. A warm up could consist of a fag and maybe a poo, while the idea of warming down anywhere rather than a bar seemed laughable.

Even England internationals joined in the fun with a litany of amusing injuries. Former England spinner Phil Edmonds once cricked his back getting out of his car at Lord’s, while Chris Old managed to damage a rib on the morning of a game by sneezing. Derek Pringle, meanwhile, sat down to sort out some complimentary tickets for friends on the eve of the Headingly Test of 1982. He stretched and leant back in his chair, which promptly collapsed, sending his back into spasm, and he missed the match. If only his bowling was as threatening as that chair.

We obviously live in different times these days and maybe it’s time for the average village cricketer to take the risk of injury more seriously. One of the great things about playing for Sefton is that you could conceivably still be doing it at 60. Many of us remember Ronnie Stringer who played reguarly in his eighties. I'm sure Ronnie wouldn't have risked his brittle limbs in the IPL so maybe KP shouldn't have either. Me? I'm off for an ice bath and a rub down.


  1. Poor old Syd Lawrence, he never recovered from that. He later retired to Birmingham and opened a restaurant called Boom! Don't ask me ho wI know that.

    My latest is a permanently bruised heel.

  2. It was actuallly called Dojo's Niteclub and is in Bristol. I always liked Syd as he signed my autograph book when I was 13 the day he took 5 wickets against the Windies.

    Witnesses described his knee cracking as sounding like a gun had gone off. It was in a meaningless drawn test against New Zealand poor bloke.

  3. Chris Brereton30 July 2009 at 03:52

    Very true Jamie.

    It used to be a case of get-the cricket-out-of-the-way-and-then-do-something exciting-involving-alcohol-and-girls on a Saturday night.

    Nowadays, after a full day's play all I want is a nice sit down somewhere quiet and the only thing I fancy with ice is the bag of peas attached to various aching/screaming/bleeding appendages.

    Just HOW did that happen. I am sure I was a teenage whippersnapper not three minutes ago.


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