Junior cricket coaches – and school teachers - will ultimately determine whether Cricket Australia’s Youth Pace Bowling Guidelines are successfully implemented.
That’s the opinion of Ryan Harris, a former spearhead of the Australian Test team’s pace attack, and now CA High Performance Coach.
The guidelines are designed to halt the alarming number of back stress fractures that have struck down fast bowlers.
However, instead of imposing restrictions, young quicks are being set targets. In a further shift in policy some juniors will bowl even more balls.
Bowlers are being advised to bowl no more than four times a week and to avoid bowling more than two days in a row. The idea driving that policy is to allow the young fast bowlers’ bones to not only adapt to the stress of bowling but to also become stronger.
“A lot of people don’t realise there are fast bowlers aged between 14 to 17 who play different forms of cricket, school cricket that is played on Friday and Saturday, as well as their Sunday club cricket,” said Harris, who will coach Australia in next month’s 2018 ICC Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand.
“That means they’re bowling three days in a row – and that’s not ideal.”
However, he said the desire to win will test the willingness of some coaches to properly support the guidelines.
“I had a debate about this the other night,” said Harris.
“It’s a tough one because at what point does a coach go from looking after the player to wanting to win the game by bowling their star bowler for most of the match?
“Make no mistake, we want to encourage kids to win, especially at 14 which is the entry level to district, or premier cricket for the more talented players. Ultimately, the coach must decide on the limit they’ll bowl, and then they need to stick to it.”
Harris said he could not definitively say whether the new guidelines would have saved the likes of Brett Lee, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins from the injuries they sustained in the formative years of their first-class career, but he made it clear the idea expressed by some old-timers was guaranteed only one outcome.
“It’s all well and good to bowl and bowl but we all break,” he said.
“In my research I’ve found there’s only two guys throughout the history of fast bowling who got through their careers without injuries that seriously disrupted their careers, and they were Craig McDermott (71 Tests/138 ODIs) and Garth McKenzie (60 Tests).
“Dennis Lillee had back injuries; Jeff Thomson had problems … and while they’re legends of the game and bowled for hours at a time, they still broke. By saying that, I’m not knocking them because they’re genuine greats.
“Look, we’re not saying [the guidelines] are the perfect system, but we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep our bowlers on the field and playing for longer.
“There’ll always be the possibility of a high injury rate, and we need to help the states work out how they decrease the number of injuries. Western Australia has five or six fast bowlers on the sideline due to stress-related injuries – and our goal is to end that.”
Cricket Australia’s Sports Medicine Manager, Alex Kountouris, says research had stressed the dangers associated with sustained high workloads and sudden increases in workload.
“When combined with bowling technique errors, the risk increases,” Kountouris said.
“If we add in that their bones haven’t fully matured and there are growth spurts, it is easy to understand why young fast bowlers are likely to develop bone stress injuries like stress fractures of the lower back.
“Our research shows that younger, faster bowlers are up to six-to-10 times greater risk of getting a stress fracture when they play in multi-day games.
“In young developing bodies, the skeletal bone does not reach its full maturity (bone strength such as density or mineralisation) and remains susceptible to stress fractures until bone stops growing . . . especially for the kind of forces that bowling puts on it.
“In fact, although the lower limb bones are close to fully mature by about the age of 18, the vertebra or spinal bones don’t reach full maturity until about the age of 25. This means the spine bones remain more susceptible to injury until around this age.”
For further details about the Youth Pace Bowling Guidelines visit:
Written by Daniel Lane for cricket.com.au (image, Pat Cummins / Getty Images)