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over 4 years ago | Interviews


A county cricket club is about more than just the eleven players who take to the field — there are a large number of backroom staff who play crucial roles in the inner workings of the club. One key, and growing area of importance is keeping players fit. Quicks bowl faster and batsmen hit further than ever before, and the physical exertion is therefore greater than it ever has been. It has developed into something that requires management of every aspect of a player’s wellbeing.

“It’s very much a team effort between strength and conditioning and physiotherapy”, says Middlesex Cricket’s head of medical services & lead physiotherapist Pete Waxman. “There’s a lot of evidence that a strong player is less likely to get injured and will recover quicker when injured, so the players spend a lot of time over the winter working on strength and fitness. We know the players very well so from a physiotherapy point of view we are able to pinpoint any weaknesses or vulnerabilities that they might have and then work to prevent any injuries.”

It’s not difficult to see why Middlesex are putting so much focus on these areas: if you are not in a fit state to play, you cannot help the club. “I wouldn’t say injury prevention is necessarily more important than maximising performance,” says Andy Mitchell, strength and conditioning coach at Middlesex Cricket, “but looking at it chronologically, if they are not on the pitch in the first place then they cannot perform their skills.

“I think there has also been more emphasis put on these roles because of the financial investment which has come in over the past few years. Chief executives want to see the best players more often but also, as we have just seen in the World Cup, the athleticism and expected outputs of cricketers are so much higher now.”

The athleticism which Mitchell mentions is one of the more manifest differences in performance between the players of today and the players of yesteryear. “I’m sure Gus won’t mind if I use him as an example,” says Mitchell, “but would you ever have seen Angus Fraser at fine leg sprint after the ball, dive full stretch, tip it back inside the rope, get back up on his feet and fizz it in over the top of the stumps just to save one run? Realistically, he’s going to jog round, pick it up off the boundary board and underarm it in.”

These days there’s no hiding in the field. “Particularly in white-ball cricket,” Mitchell says, “how many games are won and lost by five runs or fewer? So even the seamers, who might be grazing the boundary, are expected to do all they can just to save one run. If you can save five runs in the field, you go a long way to winning close matches of cricket.”

That’s not the only difference between the here and now and years past, but it can still be a struggle getting players to treat themselves right. “Gone are the days when players would pop out for a fag during games and have pie and chips for lunch,” says Mitchell. “These days, for recovery after a training session, the easy thing to do is to have a protein shake, have an ice bath and think that you are done, but that is pretty far away from the mark.

“The cornerstones of recovery are sleep and food, so if you aren’t eating well and sleeping well, then a lot of the stuff you do isn’t going to make much of a difference. We encourage the lads to take some personal responsibility — I’d love to be able to go round to their houses and tuck them in at half past nine every night, but that’s not going to happen — so making sure that they have the tools and the knowledge to do that is really important.”

As Waxman points out, it can be as hard getting players to stop working as it is getting them to start. “It can be tough trying to convince someone who thinks they are ready to play that they need another week. It also comes up in practice a lot: a player like Steven Finn might want to practise for over an hour because he loves it, but at the moment it is better for him to bowl something closer to twenty minutes. It is all about keeping a level workload.”

Some of the challenges that come with the job are more prosaic. “We travel with the team but you never really know what you are going to get if you are going to an outground,” says Waxman. “Sometimes we have to set up our beds in the toilet or in the showers which is a bit of an experience. Occasionally we will have to run to the local garage to get some ice for the baths.”

But when it does pay off it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Toby Roland-Jones’ injury struggles are well-documented, with a stress fracture keeping him out of action for 18 months. But he has since stormed back into form, claiming 19 wickets in two Championship games at a cost of just over 10 runs apiece, and striking two half-centuries to boot, and Waxman couldn’t be happier.

“Toby’s someone who got injured while I was looking after him so that was a disappointment, and you wonder if you could have done anything different. But to see how hard he’s worked and to see him come back, and hit his straps now after a month or two — it’s extremely gratifying when that happens. It’s the same with Steven Finn — with all the operations he’s had on his knee over the winters, to see him coming back into form now is one of the pleasures of the job.”

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