Is Cricket the Ultimate Endurance Sport?

CC Image courtesy of PJ R on Flickr
CC Image courtesy of PJ R on Flickr

Guest blog by sports physiotherapist @NicolvanDyk (Qatar)

Endurance sports require long periods of physical exertion. Defined as the “subset of sports in which the goal is prolonged athletic output, over an extended distance or for an extended period of time.” A cricket match can last for 5 days for 6-7 hours a day and if you’re a fast bowler, you may end up running 20km in a single day.
One of the most well-known endurance sports is triathlon; the IronMan® competition. If you are thinking Robert Downey Jr and the Avengers at this point, stop reading – you’ve missed the point. Ironman® triathletes are crazy, silly people who compete in an event that requires a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and then finish it off with a “regular” 42km marathon. So, what has this got to do with cricket? Well, quite a bit perhaps…

Similarities: endurance sport and cricket

Let’s get the obvious (#tongueincheek) stuff out of the way. Both endurance sport and cricket have some pretty noticeable similarities:

  • It takes forever just to finish, the cut off time for an Ironman triathlon is around 20hrs, a regular cricket test match can include up to 30hrs of playing time.
  • A somewhat above normal interest in statistics and numbers. All physios who have assisted triathletes will know this, and all team physicians will probably know batting averages and number of balls faced/bowled by heart (because they players won’t let you forget!).
  • Training is always debated with how much fitness/strength work vs sports specific training is necessary, with the latter almost always winning (form follows function I guess – but I will steer clear of that debate). And let’s not forget
  • mental stamina and
  • overuse injuries.

Mental toughness

Mental strength is needed to endure a physical activity for hours and hours on end. Cricket is a team sport composed by individual performances, and unlike many other team sports, it can get pretty lonely out there. And rough. Just ask Jonathan Trott after his spectacular collapse in the most recent Ashes Test Series Down Under, or indeed, see if Darryll Cullinan would like to revisit some of the Shane Warne moments. You are alone, and when the going gets tough, it gets really tough. The pressure starts building, and everything seems to close in.

Similarly, in triathlon, or indeed any endurance effort, “hitting the wall” is not something any athlete ever wants to experience. Paula Newby Fraser (@paulanewbyfrase), the undisputed “queen of Kona”, an eight time world champion, had to suffer one of the most well documented moments where she completely collapsed in 1995 (she did go on to win it again a final time in 1996). A top athlete, a seven time winner already, how could it go so wrong? The answer, simply, is because at the elite level, you are constantly striving for the edge. It is about pushing the limits, about finding ways around the pain and getting over the finish line – whatever it takes.

The latest on the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

Back from a possible-career-ending Hamstring Strain Injury, Michael Clarke (@MClarke23) will make it to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in a few days. Coach Lehmann confirmed he won’t start against England, but will play in the majority of the matches. Return to play after a hamstring injury is a tough call. Stuart Broad questions the strategy to get Clarkie back so soon. But, it seems that Dr. Peter Brukner (@PeterBrukner) and the Australian medical team got it right (#kudos) – Clarke is playing. Was it the addition of some eccentric work on the Nordic Hamstring Device? A decision like this would of course have many components, see Paul Dijkstra’s (@drpauldijkstra) excellent piece on the integrated management of the athlete. There are many overuse injuries in cricket, as is the case with endurance athletes.

I concede that cricket seems less likely to push physical limits the same way a triathlon does (let’s set aside the courageous players who faced fast bowlers with broken hands, broken ribs, or continued playing with injured muscles). There is something about the ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time that seems to be the make of a great athlete (Hanif Mohammad holds the record individual innings in cricket with 970 minutes). In any book, that takes some sort of mental strength, endurance and ability.

So is cricket the ultimate endurance sport? Perhaps not, but it does get pretty close in terms of mental toughness. And I for one will be watching how Clarkie goes with great interest. If the ICC ® Cricket World Cup 2015 lives up to its expectations, it will be one to remember.

Nicol van Dyk is a sports physiotherapist with special training in manual therapy. He is writing this in his personal capacity as a physiotherapist. You can read his previous BJSM Blog here – advice for Tiger Woods

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