Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - A behind the scenes look at England's fitness par excellence. England's running between the wickets is one of the indicators of their excellent fitness levels
England's running between the wickets is one of the indicators of their excellent fitness levels
Jason Roy hit the second ball of England's innings against Sri Lanka out to the deep square leg boundary. It looked as if it was no more than an easy single. But Roy hared back for a second run, making it comfortably. Four balls later, Roy and Jos Buttler scampered a three on a Sharjah outfield where threes are as rare as a mask on the London Underground. By the end of the first over, England had already gained an extra two runs, simply through the excellence of their running between the wickets.
The level of intensity that Roy and Buttler showed in that first over against Sri Lanka has been a theme of England's performances in this World Cup. They have not only dominated with bat and ball in all four games they have played to date but their physicality, speed and power has stood out. Chris Woakes' brilliant one-handed catch of Steve Smith against Australia was another example, a half chance taken because of the all-rounder's athleticism. England clearly have some highly skilled T20 players but their fitness is giving them an edge as well.
England's strength and conditioning staff, led by Rob Ahmun, have been preparing the players for the World Cup for some time. With ten of the squad involved in the second half of the IPL and eight remaining at home, there were different approaches taken in the immediate lead-up to the tournament. Those at the IPL were given workout plans and Ahmun had weekly calls with the players to check how training was going and how they were eating in the hotel. He also spoke to the strength and conditioning and physio teams at the IPL franchises to make sure each player was completing the right exercises and sessions each week.
For the players at home, there was a two-week block of training before they departed for their pre-World Cup training camp in Oman. For the first six days after their arrival in the Middle East, quarantine arrangements meant the players could only do physical work – they could not leave the hotel but had access to the gym. In that first seven day period, the members of the squad were doing two sessions a day with a focus on acclimatising to the heat, consisting of one gym session, one running or sprint session as well as a pool recovery and mobility session.
“Looking back now I think we're very lucky with going to Oman,” Ahmun says. “Getting the lads acclimatised to the heat, and getting people up to speed, it actually gave us a real nice block of time.” The IPL players had been playing, so were already match fit when they joined the squad in the UAE and were able to get straight into the warm-up games.
Each England player has an individualised programme for the World Cup based on their injury history and what their specific fitness goals might be. It is tailored around the games and typically involves two or three gym sessions per week plus two sprinting workouts. That programme includes work on game-day during what Ahmun calls “primer” sessions in the gym.
“There's some really good research out there on something called priming, where you perform an exercise session in the morning,” he says. “The research tells you that the session will improve afternoon performance not only from a physical perspective but from a cognitive and hormonal perspective as well. We're playing at 6 o'clock at night so for some of these lads, game day is get up, have breakfast, get in the gym, relax, and then we'll all travel to the ground together and they're ready to go for the start of the game.
“It all involves some weights either explosive work or some heavy work depending on who they are and what their preference is. But the key is getting into the gym about six or eight hours before the start of the game and working with some good intent, making sure things are nice and explosive.”
Priming is one way strength and conditioning has evolved. Five years ago, Ahmun says players' physical preparation did not vary too much between the various formats. That has now changed. “We are at a point where not only are we individualising based on the player, but we're also individualising based on the format of cricket as well,” he says.
England's fielding too has been top-notch
GPS data from England's players show that they cover the most metres, make the most sprints and initiate most accelerations per minute in T20 compared to the other two formats. “Test cricket is about the long haul and repeating day after day after day,” Ahmun says. “T20 cricket is: you've got 3 hours to give it 100% and we know that there's going to be short sprints, lots of accelerations, lots of decelerations. That's what we have to prepare them for.”
To that end, the physical conditioning of England's World Cup squad has been focused on the specific demands of the T20 game. “It is about strength work, power work and then when we are on the field it's about short accelerations but repeating those. For the batters it might involve doing a run two, then throwing a medicine ball and then doing another run two and throwing a medicine ball again. We make the conditioning very specific to the demands of the game.”
There is a lot of jumping and plyometric exercises to increase power while speed is of the essence in much of what the players do too, both on the field and in the gym. “Most of these players are quite seasoned pros now so their strength levels and their muscle mass levels are pretty much set,” Ahmun says. “We're not looking to change that. It's just: how much how stronger can we get you? How quickly can we get to move that weight? Rather than focusing on adding more reps more weight to the bars, it's about how quickly can we get you doing this?”
It is the same on the field. Gone are the days of players simply pounding the roads for hours on end. There is a place for the odd 5k, as Jonny Bairstow did before the Sri Lanka match, but there is far more emphasis now on sprinting, particularly for T20.
“For the fast bowlers, we do a lot of what we call tempo runs where they'll probably run 2, maybe 3K,” Ahmun says. “We'll break that down into 80 to 100 metre intervals at their run-up pace. That allows them to sustain that pace and then that allows some real good transfer back into the bowling side of things. They just get efficient at that pace, which is really important for them to carry the momentum through the crease.”
The time the players spent in Oman or at the IPL in the UAE helped acclimatise them to the intense heat in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. When Buttler left the field after his brilliant hundred against Sri Lanka, his shirt was stuck to him, soaked through with sweat. Each player is weighed at the ground immediately after they get off the bus and then once again at the end of the match to see how much fluid they have lost and work out how much they need to take onboard to recover.
The schedule has been kind to England in that regard. Aside from the one day break between the Australia game in Dubai and the Sri Lanka game in Sharjah, the players have had three or four days between matches to recover from playing under such intense heat. After each game, the squad has been given a day off where the focus is simply on mobility work, getting the right nutrition and relaxing. Some of the players have been paddleboarding while others have spent time with their families.
The team that wins the World Cup will be the one that executes their skills and gameplan the best. England have done very well in that regard during their first four games. But their physicality and athleticism has also been on show allowing them to impose, and then sustain, the sort of intensity with bat, ball, between the wickets and in the field that has been too much for their opponents. Who knows how important their fitness might be as the tournament moves on. An extra run stolen here or an extra run saved there may prove to be crucial in the knock-out stages.
It certainly was at Lord's two and a half years ago.