The first day of the second test Australia v India was the final push I needed to pen this article when four members of the Australian attack suffered from one injury or another.
My interest in cricket began when I was five years old. To begin with I was not in a position to watch it, either live or on television but I devoured books about it and glued myself to radio commentary. From the start it was the Aussie cricketers who evoked most of my interest and admiration. Along with Yorkshiremen, they were the tough, steely-eyed, hard and determined players and always, the team to beat and so it has continued into adulthood.
From Armstrong, Gregory and McDonald to Bradman, McCabe, Lindwall and Miller, then Harvey, Burge and ‘Slasher’ Mackay. In the seventies there were the Chappell brothers, Lillee, Marsh and ‘Thommo’, into the eighties with Border, then Steve Waugh, Hayden and Ponting but what on Earth has happened since?
The appearance of a hard man in the Australian cricket team is as rare as a spring in the Outback. Bearing in mind that cricket is not considered a contact sport, let us examine the injury list in Australian test cricket over the past few years.
Strongly built Shane Watson heads the list. He began with a torn side muscle in 2005. This was followed by a dislocated shoulder, soft tissue injuries, a calf strain, a hamstring injury, a back stress fracture, another hamstring problem, a calf injury, further calf and hamstring injuries and finally, an ankle injury. Between 2006 and 2009 he did not play a test.
In the past seven years Shaun Marsh has had several back injuries, surgery on an elbow, a hamstring injury and this year, a calf problem. He is lucky to play two consecutive games. His brother Mitchell has had five separate hamstring injuries in the past two years.
Pat Cummins made his test debut at the age of 18 and won the man of the match award. With a list of injuries too numerous to mention, he has not played a test in the three years since then.
James Pattinson has suffered back, foot and rib injuries in the three years since he made his debut and has played only 13 tests.
Jackson Bird has played little cricket in the past year, as he has twice suffered back problems.
Mitchell Starc is so mollycoddled that it appears he is selected only for each alternative test, as it is too much to expect him to complete consecutive tests. In the series against South Africa in 2012 two of the most important members of the Australian team, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were rested after the second test because it was considered that they would be too tired to bowl in the third test. Australia lost the test and the series. Bear in mind that Mitchell Marsh, Starc, Cummins and Pattinson are not aging cricketers pushing into their final years but men who have not yet reached 25.
Australia appears to be the worst affected by this modern phenomenon but the situation is not greatly different in any first world country. Despite, or perhaps because of the host of staff employed to look after them, players generally appear considerably more frail than used to be the case. The doctors, physiotherapists, fitness trainers, masseurs and nutritionists do not seem to be very successful in keeping players in the field.
Six Day a Week Cricket
Some will say the reason for all these modern injuries is too much cricket, which is nonsense. English county cricketers of the past consistently played a six month season of six day a week cricket and those playing for the national side would then often have a winter tour abroad of several months duration.
Let us put this in context by drawing comparisons. Tom Richardson, a big fast bowler, claimed more than a thousand wickets over a period of four years from 1894. There is no bowler currently in first class cricket who has taken 1000 wickets in a whole career. It is a rare feat today for a bowler to take 100 wickets in a season, yet Derek Shackleton did it for 20 consecutive seasons from 1949. The last man to take 2000 wickets in a career was Norman Gifford, more than 25 years ago. Alan Border played 153 consecutive tests, Ken Suttle 423 consecutive county games between 1954 and 1969. Aged 50, Ironmonger played test cricket in the ‘bodyline’ series. Ramadhin and Verity both bowled more than 120 overs in a single test. Tom Richardson, bowling fast, regularly bowled more than 1500 overs in a season. The great Australian all rounder, Alan Davidson constantly complained of injury and soreness but he kept on bowling.
The fragility of the current crop of players makes these figures appear the feats of supermen but this is not so. These players grew up in a time when there were no computers or cellphones and for many, no television. One found entertainment outside in the fresh air and nobody, thankfully, had ever heard of health and safety regulations. When you began playing cricket at the higher levels, you just ‘got on with it’ and played through the various niggles. There was nobody to tell you that you should bowl only ‘X’ overs during a day or, Heaven forbid, that you needed to rest before you became exhausted, so we had players who gritted their teeth and played on through the pain.
Cricketers Display Grit
Who can forget Yorkshireman Brian Close’s battering at the hands of the West Indies fast bowlers in 1963. Afterwards, a large part of his upper body was covered with welts, which made it look as if golf balls had been pushed up under his skin. Batsmen were twice caught out from full blooded pull shots which rebounded from Close’s forehead. He did not leave the field afterwards.
I have no easy solution to the problem of the fragility of the modern Australian cricketer, merely a wish to return to a time when I can see once again a reincarnation of that archetype of Australian cricket, Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay, who, after defying, in a two hour last wicket partnership against the best that Wes Hall and the other West Indian fast bowlers could throw at him, dropped his hands and allowed the last ball of the match, from the best fast bowler in the world at the time, to catch him squarely in his unprotected chest, rather than risk his wicket and the match.