Ashes preparations have been dominated by fitness concerns, especially surrounding England’s fast bowling attack, with both James Anderson and Ollie Robinson ruled out of the only warm-up against Ireland.
Entire books have been undoubtedly dedicated to the art of fast bowling but one thing is for sure, it takes a heavy toll on the body.
Famously, in the case of Freddie Flintoff who played his last Test match in 2009, aged 32, when his body (knee and ankle) finally gave out, and the ongoing Jofra Archer saga, where it remains to be seen if the seamer will be able to play for England again.
Northamptonshire strength and conditioning coach Chris Lorkin explains how for seam bowlers, pre-season starts almost as soon as the previous one ends to prevent injury.
“It’s such an unnatural movement isn’t it (fast bowling)? I’m not sure if you got someone off the street to come and do that movement pattern they would know what had hit them the next day,” Lorkin said.
“So, the loads and the forces that are going through parts of these guys’ bodies are massive, especially at this level.”
He added: “We’re lucky enough to have a long pre-season. Pre-season starts in November, so we’ve got a good five months to get the guys up and ready for the start of that April season and even a bit longer with the Blast starting into late May, so we’re fortunate enough that we’ve got that time-period to increase their robustness and make sure they’re ready to go and really firing on all cylinders.”
A number of England internationals, including Ollie Robinson, Archer, Saqib Mahmood and Jamie Overton have all spent time out of the game due to stress fractures in their back.
It is a problem that seems endemic in English cricket at the moment, and no one seems to quite have the solution.
“Obviously Covid was in one way helpful and in one way a hindrance,” Lorkin said from his experience with Northamptonshire.
“We only had a short season that year when the prep was all on them at home with the support remotely and we only had to get them through two months and 10 Blast games and four red-ball games.
“In terms of the development for more of the younger guys, they missed the full season of cricket that would help them get through seasons more recently.
“We’ve kind of been lucky, but we’ve been meticulous in our planning at the club over the years. I’ve been at the club now for nearly six seasons and we haven’t seen that many in terms of stress fractures really.
“I think the intensity of the game creeping up year on year and franchise cricket being played all around the world – these calibres of athletes and the intensity that they play at are more susceptible to those type of injuries.
“So we’ve got one that we’re managing at the moment to be fair. He’s had a stress response in his back, luckily we’ve caught it early enough, so hopefully his time out won’t be too long.
“If we can catch something early enough then hopefully that minimises their time off on the park.”
While not a solution, with the prospect of a jam-packed schedule in the following years, England will hope they can have the same fortune in identifying injuries early, before they find themselves short of fast-bowling options.