Thursday 20 November 2008

Gone in the Side. And in the Bottom.

On TV, Ryan Sidebottom is all hair and panto grimaces. Watch him patrol a boundary from a few feet away, though, and he's a different proposition, a man of barn door dimensions with shoulders the size of Flintoff's and an arse like a cart-horse.  

Strange and sad then, that his body is in breakdown, gone in the back, calf, groin and Achilles. He has bowled two overs since July. Even the hair has been cut down to size.

Much was made of the seven years in county cricket that had turned him into a bowling machine. A year inside the England bubble of trains, boats and planes put paid to that.

On sunday, six English fast bowlers - Maurice Chambers (21), Jonathan Clare (22), Jade Dernbach (22), Chris Jordan (20), Mark Turner (24) and Chris Woakes (19) - head to Bradenton, a charming town on Florida's Gulf of Mexico, and the IMG Institute of Sport for three weeks of strength work with Huw Bevan, a rugby trainer. The ECB's bowling academy man Kevin Shine says. 'we want to treat them like Olympic athletes, fitter, faster and stronger'. Once Bevan has had a go at them, the six go to Madras and DK Lillee. 

They are at the sharp end of Shine's development programme, which now monitors seamers six-monthly from the age of 13. They all seem decent enough: Jordan got some raves at the start of the season, Justin Langer describes Turner as 'an explosion waiting to happen' (hopefully not an explosion of bones and joints), Woakes was Warwickshire's leading wicket-taker and he, Dernbach and Clare all took over 40 first-class wickets. Shine hopes they 'could be the next world-class bowlers to play for England'. 

Thanks to players like Sidebottom, the ECB are rich enough to do it. However, and this is very English: all except Woakes are older than Tim Southee, who just took 4-63 at the Gabba. Five of them are older than Ishant Sharma, too. Three of them are the same age or older than Stuart Broad. Turner is just a year younger than Dale Steyn. 

It's only a year and a bit since Saj Mahmood (26) and Liam Plunkett (23) were on tour with England. They are going with a squad somewhere, where they'll probably end up bowling at MP Vaughan in the nets all day. The current location of uber-fragile lunk Chris Tremlett, 27, is unknown. 

All are under Shine, being ruthlessly developed. The last fast bowler called up by the selectors? D. Pattinson, a 29-year-old Australian. 

NB: The subtext of this story is nature versus nurture. The most injured of England's bowlers have been the biggest, most muscle-bound guys: Flintoff, Sidebottom, Simon Jones. Despite the hours in the gym, their bulk goes against them. The quick bowlers with the most longevity are the tall, sinewy ones: McGrath, Walsh, Ambrose, Pollock, Dev,  which at least bodes well for Broad, Southee etc. Sometimes you can't beat nature.


Anonymous said...

That was a nice observation in the 'Nota Bene' paragraph. For some reason, i feel the youngsters should be thrown directly to the battle arena instead of taking them to Florida and Madras. Like you said, you can spend hours and hours in the gym, but that neither improves the players fitness nor does it prevent any injury.

The Old Batsman said...

It's almost like they want to be too protective of talent. You have to let them take their chances.

In the NFL they select on physical type as much as anything. It's a much more horses-for-courses sport, but I'd hate cricket to lose that mad, random element of someone bucking the trend.