As the epidemic of fast bowlers getting stress fractures of the spine appears to surge, the solution it seems is just as far away as ever. Yet the answer has always been within the grasp of coaches. It’s simply that fast bowling has suffered from a backwards thinking when it comes to understanding how the action works correctly.
The latest casualty is one Kagiso Rabada, World Number One ranked Test Bowler, who at the ripe old age of 23 has suffered a back stress fracture. But it was always likely to happen given the WAY his bowls and the counter-rotation in his back before he bowls, a misalignment of his action throughout and a large lateral flexion (fall away) when he actually bowls the cricket ball. Great bowler. But also a great candidate for a stress fracture.
So why are cases like his and the tens of others we see befalling far lesser bowlers, happening with more regularity?
There’s a great saying “you reap what you sow”. And for more than a decade now the emphasis has been far less on technique and far more on ‘strength, fitness and conditioning’. On the surface of it, if a bowler suffered a stress fracture due to him being ‘fragile’ the theory would be he will be protected due to all that new found training right?
This is where we go wrong.
Fast bowling actions that are riddled with inefficiencies, are a recipe for creating stress pockets. The lower back (pars lumbar) is where the bowler has an issue (around L5) so it makes absolute sense to ensure the body is correctly aligned to avoid issues. No amount of extra training it going to correct the misalignments and no amount of lifting weights or gym work will alter a poor bowling action.
This is all about technique, or the body’s ability to deliver a skill repeatedly in the most efficient way possible. The upside of course for working on a bowler’s action is also one of improved outcomes. If you are consistent and effective at the bowling end, you are likely to be the same at the batsman’s end. The benefits of technical advances are obvious therefore for more wickets and less injuries.
But the coaching of fast bowling technique is extraordinarily limited. Much of it is reduced to ‘pulling down a toilet chain” with the front arm or bowlers hopping over a succession of yellow hurdles. trying to avoid ski poles and getting pulled in different directions by bungee ropes. The understanding of what parts of the body need to move in which direction – and in what sequence, are a complete mystery in fast bowling. In virtually all other rotational, ballistic sports, technique is the most important aspect of the athlete’s work.
If you know what to look for you can almost predict with unerring accuracy, which actions are likely to cause problems. And sure enough, given enough overs, the bowler ends up having to rehab, often multiple times, and each time having a negative impact of both mental state and the body’s ecosystem.
The bottom line is simply this: unless and until technical fast bowling coaches are employed to work on the structure of the action and the linking of the movements between the key positions, we will miss out on two things; the ability to help avoid back injuries and the maximising of speed of our fast bowlers.
Fast bowling is an injurious pursuit but not one beyond the wit of man. Neglecting technique is the most retrograde step for fast bowling in this generation of information at our fingertips and data driven sport. If we do not understand the technical aspect of our sport how is it possible for coach educators to pass on knowledge to coaches? Instead we will produce a generation of coaches afraid to ‘tinker’ with a bowling action but will be at home finding distracting things to do in fast bowling sessions that have nothing to do with improving the technical delivery. The bottom line is, if no one teaches technique then no one is culpable. This leaves other ‘manageable’ areas of cricket training such as outcomes, fitness, scenarios and nets as the only tools available to a fast bowling coach.
The answer, as the Chinese like to say, is always in front of you. I am just unsure that cricket is really looking.