Sunday, 5 April 2009

What Does a Cricketer need?

Cricketers come in all shapes and sizes: I think most would agree there doesn't exist a winning formula for the ideal batsman, bowler or all-rounder. For example, Michael Holding is very tall, Brett Lee is not so tall. Both were/are frighteningly quick. However, all the really good cricketers have features in common.

In my opinion, a truly great cricketer should be an athlete. The Australians are brilliant at developing athletic cricketers. Their players have the ability and technical prowess to reach an elite level, but maximize their ability by being in fantastic physical condition (with the exception of Shane Warne). I think it’s certainly been a determining factor in their dominance over the last 10 years (present form excluded!).

For the purpose of this article, let’s crudely define ‘fitness related attributes’ as activities which, when trained, are taxing upon at least one of the three energy systems of the body. So, by this poor man’s definition, hand-eye co-ordination would not be eligible to make the list. This may be controversial to some, but I don’t want this article to get too long so I’ll only include the essentials.

Using this definition, I believe the following attributes must be found in a cricketer in order to get the best out of their ability, and to maximize their personal performance. Although these qualities would be found in an elite player, but every cricketer should strive to improve these attributes if they want to become the best cricketer they can.

Acceleration power: If you're not standing around in the field, you're sprinting. The longest period of exertion in cricket is the time taken to chase a ball. In track and field terms, chasing a ball is a very short distance event, just like 60m or 100m. In other words, its all about maximum velocity. Obviously, you want to chase down the ball as quickly as possible, so you want to get up to your top speed as soon as possible!

Decceleration power: Whether you're running a two or three or stopping to pick up the ball, the quicker you can slow down, the longer you'll remain at top speed, which simply means you'll do everything quicker.

Agility: and I don’t mean ladder drills agility. Although this is a fairly small detail, being able to turn quickly will save a lot of time when chasing down a ball.

Power: By mine and Tudor Bompa’s reckoning (see Periodization: Training for Sports, T.Bompa) power is the most important feature for any cricketer. In mechanics, power is defined in the following way:

Power = Force x Velocity

The sporting definition is slightly different, but this formula gives us as good an understanding as we need. Cricketers need to be able to provide as large a force as possible quickly. When batting, the force is provided by the weight of the bat, the velocity comes from our arms and slightly from the torso (more on this in future blogs). When bowling, in crude terms the faster our hand is moving, the faster the ball is going to come out (I don’t think I have to justify this, although mechanically I can) (NOTE: this statement is correct, but there is much more to bowling than this simple fact. Hate to say this again but see future posts!). When chasing down a ball, you sprint. To propel yourself forward, you apply a force against the ground with your foot. The velocity is provided by how quick each push is performed. The power to throw is provided by rotational energy from the legs and trunk, and elastic energy stored in the tendons of the upper body. The quicker the arm is accelerated, the greater your power will be.

These are hugely simplified explanations and are by no means the whole story , but all the above will be explained in detail in the future. I have included these so you can see how large a role your power plays in cricket.

Power Endurance: having the power to throw a ball 300 yards is impressive, but of no use to a cricketer if you cannot repeat that throw throughout the game. Power endurance refers to the ability to produce maximum power for extended periods.

Stamina: put simply, cricketers need to give it their all the whole game. Stamina in cricket is about lactic acid tolerance and in game recovery between bouts of activity (see later).

Core Strength: ‘core strength’ is a buzzword in the fitness industry and the moment, but the concept itself is not flawed. ‘The core’ refers to the rectus abdominal muscles (the six-pack muscles), the obliques (muscles running down the side of your abs), the transverse abdominal muscles (deeper muscles running around your waist to your spinal column) and the Latissimus Dorsi (strong muscles running up your back). I would also include the hip flexors as they play an important part in bowling. Core strength refers to a strong, stable and most importantly balanced core region. This is so important for cricketers because rotation plays a role in all parts of the game. Secondly, the stronger your muscles, Also, its important for overall health because a strong core means a well supported spine. How many time have you heard bowlers complaining of lower back pain? I would postulate that this was caused by either a mixed action or quite simply poor core strength. Every cricketer needs a strong core!

All of these attributes can be improved. Too often we are sold the story that ‘he’s good because of genetics’. I would not doubt the role of genetics, but to me it’s a get out of jail card to replace hard work and a lack of knowledge of the sport. Personally I’ll always downplay the role of genetics because I don’t see the point in discussing it. You can’t change your mum and dad, but you can improve upon what they have given you.

This is far from a complete picture, and may seem confusing. I’ve tried to keep it as short as possible but I could write for days and still not cover everything I’d like to. My aim is to build up a large source of information which will ultimately help to make your cricket better.

Right. Time for some serious stuff.

Next time: Power talk or how to hit the ball further.

Next time after that: GPP training and the 3 energy systems

Next time after that: Fast bowling and how to train for it.

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