Cricket ODI: England v West Indies

What would Fred Trueman say about resting players?

Former greats like the late Fred Trueman, and Ian Botham, have dismissed the idea that players need resting, but are they right?

What would Fred Trueman say about resting players?

Much has been said in the past few days about Andrew Flower’s readiness to rest England’s bowlers. There are those who criticise the policy as a cheapening of the product which has already been purchased by those who had tickets for today’s Headingley ODI.

Others point out that the Yorkshire paying public could have reasonably expected to see Yorkshireman Tim Bresnan in the team, provided he was fit. But those who agree with this policy of damage limitation, and there are many, point out that the forthcoming international programme is so rigorous it is essential that bowlers avoid fatigue, which would increase the danger of injury.

There is a finite amount of physical capability in even the fittest of bodies, and England’s cricketers, it cannot be denied, have never been fitter. Athletes, from sprinters to marathon runners, follow carefully arranged programmes of training and competition. Bradley Wiggins, favourite for the forthcoming Tour de France, will reach the start line after three weeks without competition, during which much of his training will have been low-key, with just a few intensive sessions.

One can imagine the reaction of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and their contemporaries to being told to rest. They regularly bowled 1,000 overs in an English first-class season. Trueman, in a 20-year career, bowled almost 20,000 overs, while Statham, in 19 years, bowled just over 20,000. It is interesting and surprising to compare their output with those of today’s England pacemen.

James Anderson, in the ten years since his first-class debut, has bowled more than 10,000 overs in all forms of the game. Stuart Broad, in seven seasons, has bowled nearly 7,000 overs. Tim Bresnan has bowled 6,000 overs in a career that began in 2001 when he was a 15-year-old, although he has to date only bowled in half as many innings as Anderson.

So, it would appear to be a myth that yesteryear’s bowlers worked harder than their modern counterparts. Moreover, Anderson et al might point out to Trueman and Statham, were that possible, that much more of their bowling takes place in the intensity of international competition.

There is a further consideration which may have a bearing on the resilience of the modern pace bowler. When pitches were uncovered for the duration of a game, the bowling ends were softer than is now the case.

Sawdust, once a frequent sight in county and Test matches, is rarely needed these days because the ends, protected in inclement weather, are as hard as the pitch itself. The effect of the impact of this concrete-like surface on the joints of a fast bowler must be part of the cause of the greater number of injuries in the current game. Even someone as strong as Ian Botham had serious back trouble which required an operation from which he never fully recovered.

However, despite Anderson, Broad and Bresnan all having missed recent cricket through injury, it is apparent that the workload of the first two, at least, is as great as, or greater than, that of the two icons of former years. Trueman and Statham had long rests at the end, and before the beginning, of an English season, no matter where they had toured during the winter. England’s bowlers now have little opportunity to put their feet up and recover from the strain of pounding away on unyielding surfaces.

It would, therefore, seem unreasonable to object to Flower’s concern that his pace bowlers’ regimes are managed with a view to keeping them at maximum fitness over the long-term. The case of Swann, not susceptible to injury in the same manner as his colleagues, raises different questions. And perhaps Flower could avoid denying the home crowd the opportunity of watching local favourites.