The Load Management Fast Bowlers' S Quest To Find The Balance In IPL '19 > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Managing workload - Fast bowlers' quest to finding balance in IPL '19

While Jasprit Bumrah has delivered more balls than any other pacer since January 2018, Lasith Malinga too is stretching his stamina ahead of the world cup

Since January 2018, there have been five pace bowlers who have bowled in excess of 500 overs in international cricket, which translates into more than 30 hours of bowling on the field. A bowler's run-up, the approach to the crease, the pace with which he approaches, and the time taken to deliver a ball might differ from player to player but if the Olympics 100-metre dash's qualification criteria was to be taken as a comparison point - a 100 metre sprint to be completed within 10.16 seconds - the 500-odd overs bowled by each pace bowler is the equivalent of 10,630 100-metre dashes. These numbers in itself are substantial, and with the addition of the overs bowled in domestic cricket, T20 leagues around the world and warm-up matches would only swell up the kind of work put in by the pace bowlers.

Hence the term 'workload management' has been a hotly-discussed topic in recent times with the World Cup being played close on the heels of the Indian Premier League. There have been 11 editions of the World Cup so far, and as many seasons of the IPL, but for the first time the world event is being played soon after the highest-paying T20 league. Considering this, the players and the captains have been wary, with the focus now on how the players manage themselves through the IPL season. It's not only the cricket - how much of it is being played, and the performance on the field - that will be monitored, but also how the players go about handling the unrelenting Indian summer and the hectic travel schedule, and find enough time to rest and recuperate.

"Everyone wants to play the World Cup, so people will be smart about it because you don't want to miss out on such a big event. From a responsibility point of view, all the Indian players will have the responsibility during the IPL to keep a watch on their fitness and their workloads. And to continue the frame of mind we have created in the Indian team - strive towards excellence and improve every day," Virat Kohli had said before the start of IPL 2019, stressing that the players, more so the fast bowlers, will have to be smart about have they manage themselves.

Even before IPL 2019 started, there were news of fast bowlers getting injured and being ruled out of the competition, again bringing the focus back to workload management. Among the current crop of pacers, there are currently five - all key members of their respective attacks - who clocked at least 80 playing days. Four of them, two being Indians, are plying their trade in the IPL which not only increases their number of playing days but also leaves their respective team managements with their fingers crossed.

The workload for the premier pacers has increased with ever approaching World Cup, with the numbers of the Indian pacers reflecting the same. Zaheer Khan, who led India's pace attack ahead of the title-winning campaign in 2011, had bowled a touch under 500 overs in the international formats combined from January 2010 till the start of the World Cup (along with close to 65 overs in IPL 2010 and Champions League T20).

Shami, the key Indian pacer in the year leading up to the 2015 World Cup, had also bowled close to 500 overs in the international formats from January 2014 till the start of the mega event, with an additional 44 overs in IPL 2014. Since January 2018, Jasprit Bumrah has bowled more than 590 overs in international cricket, along with 54 overs in IPL 2018 - which is nearly 100 overs more than what Zaheer had managed a few years back.

Despite a fair share of injuries during his playing days, Zaheer had managed himself well to lead India's attack in the 2011 World Cup, featuring in each match that his team played, and finished as the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament. The reason he was able to achieve this had a lot to do with how he approached each game and the way he balanced his preparations. "To approach all the three formats, it is very important to have a set routine in terms of the format which you are playing," says Zaheer in a chat with Cricbuzz. "For example, for a T20 match I would focus more on getting those power warm-ups going. It's important that you're there from ball one, the time is short so you have to approach it in that fashion. At times, I would bowl a couple of overs - full run-up, flat out, full steam before a T20 match.

"As opposed to a one-dayer, you still have relatively longish time. But T20s and one-dayers, the warm-up and approach before the match remain pretty much the same. Test matches it was completely different. Test matches, I would take a day off more often than not a day prior to the start of the Test match - which basically used to make sure that your body is fresh and ready for the toil of a Test match. It is very unpredictable, you don't know when you're going to get the team out, you don't know whether you're bowling first or batting first. So everything is determined by your management over the next five days," he adds.

While workload is one aspect that determines a bowler's cricketing health, the other is injury management and how a player comes back from what can range from a niggle to a major injury. If that injury happens to be picked up in the IPL, then it makes things even more complicated for the team - which is why most nations are keeping a close watch on the IPL. But the league can also serve as a platform for cricketers who are coming back from injuries - David Warner and Steven Smith being a couple of examples. And then there are those like Mitchell Starc, who having pulled out of the IPL due to the international workload, are short of match practice as well as players on their last legs like Dale Steyn (who is no stranger to injuries and comebacks), who are missing out.

Four years back, having played a hectic season leading up to the 2015 World Cup, Shami's next international appearance only came in June 2016 as he spent a lengthy time on the sidelines due to injury. With the World Test Championship starting immediately after the 2019 World Cup, there is more pressure on Bumrah and Shami. However, for the current crop of bowlers, there is also plenty of help in terms of support staff, and improvement in medical science and technology, which wasn't quite the case a decade back, as Zaheer recollects. "We just had one physio, no trainer, eventually a trainer and masseur got introduced to the team setup. Things have been improving and evolving. It's a process which the coming generations are going to take advantage of, it's a constant process which will keep on getting better."

Workload of Indian seamers (since Jan 2018)

"With regards to fitness and workload management, and getting yourself ready with regard to fitness, I would say now things are better than what they were 10-15 years back," Zaheer adds. "I've had two surgeries - one was shoulder and one was ankle - and both the doctors were of the same opinion to how things were done 15 years back to how things were done when I underwent my surgery. And ten years from now I'm sure it'll be even better, and that'll have a straight impact in terms of recovery. There were cases being discussed even when I underwent my shoulder surgery, that the recovery time has shortened considerably than what it used to be earlier. It's science and something which everyone is working towards, and the benefit will be seen in coming times."

The balancing act when it comes to workload management in the IPL also depends on the rhythm and the form of the player in question. The teams are very flexible when it comes to training, with many optional practice sessions in place which leaves the player as the best judge. Zaheer cites his own example when it comes to juggling between practice, matches and travel, as he puts the onus on the players to make smart calls regarding what they need.

"As professional sports people, you want to be contributing all the time. If your workload in game time is going up, you can certainly manage that workload off it. If you're in good rhythm, you need not bowl (in practice sessions). There have been times when you're in good rhythm, or there is little gap between matches, you don't have to go and do that one bowling session. It's a very individual call. It has to be individual responsibility to manage one self. That is the most important thing," says Zaheer.

"Personally, for me, I've always felt secure even if I've not bowled a whole lot of overs in practices, or if I have not bowled flat out in practices. Only provided that my rhythm was good, I was able to repeat it in matches, and I felt that the workload was going on the higher side. It's a very specific kind of a scenario.

"On the other hand, if you're not in rhythm then in between the matches I've made sure that I've bowled extra as well. There are days you have to pick that - 'okay, I need more bowling time', and therefore I have to take the call of skipping the gym session and focusing more on the skill practice. You have to have the division of skill and fitness, and then strike a good balance with regard to how the season is going."

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The bowlers aren't the only ones who need to manage themselves through a long tournament such as the IPL or the demanding international calendar. The all-rounders, especially those who bowl pace, also need to handle their workload and manage other things like playing back-to back matches and the hectic travelling schedule. From an Indian perspective, Hardik Pandya will be under immense pressure as to how he manages himself, considering his injuries in the recent past. Being a key member of the Indian team, with his presence/absence having a direct influence on the team combination, the spotlight will be on him throughout the IPL. England too have a few all-rounders playing in the IPL, with Ben Stokes being the most important of them while the Windies will be playing close attention to how Andre Russell goes about it during the Indian T20 league.

Speaking about travel, Kings XI Punjab - Shami's team - are scheduled to play five matches in eleven days between April 6-16, which includes travel from Chennai to Mohali, Mohali to Mumbai, and then back to Mohali. Kings XI coach Mike Hesson has mentioned that the key players in his team, including Shami, would be managed "on a case to case basis" but that would also depend on how the team fares during the season. Meanwhile, Mumbai Indians also play five matches in eleven days - between April l0-20 - in three cities (Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur), with Bumrah and Pandya likely to feature in a majority of those games (most likely in all). In terms of air miles they would cover during the IPL, they have it slightly easier when compared to Kings XI.

Kilometres covered per team in the IPL

(Note: The numbers mentioned above are approximate values)

"All the franchises are very proactive in terms of putting the schedule out with regard to the logistics. I think based on that, you can have a plan in tandem with the support system that you have. When I'm saying support system, that includes everyone - right from your physio, trainer, to your coaches and the whole team management - as in how you're going to manage it. I feel that in a team environment, when you have the gruelling schedule of the IPL - at times playing back-to-back matches - you've got to identify which are the areas where you need to be careful in terms of the travel and recovery ratio," says Zaheer.

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Cricket - irrespective of the format - is a team sport but unlike a few other team sports, it has a lot riding on individuals. But like any sport, for the people who engage in it, workload and injuries are part and parcel. There were five casualties - all pacers - even before the start of the IPL, with Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Adam Milne, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti being ruled out due to injuries. The list may not end there, be it during the IPL or after. Eventually, it all boils down to fitness and how well it is managed, again putting the onus on the player.

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