Time to call stumps on Cricket Australia’s rotation policy

Date: January 7, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

It is a complete and utter fallacy to say that bowlers nowadays have greater workloads than players of the past.

It is the workload argument that is the primary reason for Cricket Australia’s latest innovation – the oft questioned, and dare I say criticized, rotation policy.

It is a policy that has not been designed by cricket people but by sports scientists and biomechanists.

The rationale behind this new fad is the thing that troubles me.

Let’s, for arguments sake, have a look at workloads of cricketers in days past.

And keeping in mind that the rotation policy centres around pace bowlers that is what we will compare.

If you go back to the immediate post-war period you can get some astronomical figures with regard to the number of balls delivered by English bowlers during their careers – Alec Bedser delivered 106,118 deliveries in 485 first-class matches, Brian Statham 100,955 in 559, and Fred Trueman 99,700 in 603.

But let’s move further forward and look at some more recent bowlers:

                                  f/c matches         balls        List A matches         balls            Total balls

G McKenzie                383                 76,888              151                    7,515               84,403

J Snow                         346                 60,958              182                   8,882               69,840

R Willis                        328                 47,986              293                 14,983               62,969

M Marshall                 408                 74,645              440                 22,332               96,977

C Walsh                      429                  85,443              440                 21,881             107,324

Waqar Younis            228                   39,182              411                  19,811                 8,993

Wasim Akram             257                  50,277              594                 29,719               79,996

D Gough                     248                 44,023               420                20,665               64,688

A Donald                    316                  58,801               458                22,856                81,657

A Caddick                   275                  59,663               262                12,827                72,490

Even more interesting is the number of deliveries and workload that was undertaken by all-rounders back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Unfortunately there is no definitive number of balls bowled for Richard Hadlee, but one would imagine they would be on a par, if not greater, than the other great all-rounders of the period:

                                   f/c matches      balls          List A matches         balls            Total balls

I Botham                     402               63,547              470                    22,899              86,446

Imran Khan                 382             65,224               425                     19,122              84,346

Kapil Dev                    275               48,853              310                     14,947               63,800

When you consider that the ‘Great Four’ also had to spend many hours at the crease as batsmen the work that they did with the ball is quite incredible when compared to the specialist bowlers who have been listed above.

And what about the figures for contemporary all-rounders, of which there aren’t all that many:

                                f/c matches      balls        List A matches           balls             Total balls

S Pollock                     186        39,067                    435                 21,588              60,655

J Kallis                        249        28,238                    417                 13,559               41,797

A Flintoff                    183        22,799                    282                   9,416               32,215

Now, let’s have a look at the workloads that have been endured by Australian pace bowlers who have played a significant number of Tests in recent times:

                                f/c matches      balls        List A matches         balls            Total balls

G McGrath                  189            41,759              305                   15,808                57,567

B Lee                            116            24,193              262                    13,475               37,668

J Gillespie                   189           35,372               192                   10,048               45,420

A Bichel                       186            37,197              235                     11,433              48,630

M Kasprowicz             242          49,376              226                     11,037               60,413

None of these players bowled as much as Botham, Kapil, Imran and Hadlee and never had to do the batting.

And what of the two current Australian bowlers with significant Test experience who are part of the rotation system (stats prior to the start of the current SCG Test):

                                 f/c matches       balls        List A matches         balls            Total balls

M Johnson                   90            18,174                141                      7,122              25,296

P Siddle                         70           13,832                 38                       1,816              15,648

Given their ages – Johnson 31 and Siddle 28 – neither are likely to post numbers anywhere near the likes of McGrath, Kasprowicz or Bichel.

Many talk about the travel component of the modern-day cricketer and the influence it has on the body.

That is a fair point, but I would argue that the likes of Walsh, Marshall, Wasim and Donald had their fair share of travel as well.

Cricket Australia continues to preach that Test cricket is still the preeminent form of the game – and thank God they do – but if that is the case, surely it would be better to implement a rotation policy, if in fact required, during limited-over tournaments.

This is what South Africa has done with Dale Steyn, who claimed his 300th wicket in his 61st Test this week.

When available, he plays Test cricket and is never rotated out of the side, and interestingly, he is the number one ranked bowler in the world.

During the reign of the mighty West Indian sides of the late-1970s and ‘80s, fast bowlers were not rotated but selected on merit, even though many also played for six months of the year on the English county circuit.

To rest Mitchell Starc after successive five-wicket hauls, and whilst in the form of his career, for the Boxing Day Test beggars belief.

Given the workloads that were efficiently handled, often in their stride, by players of years past perhaps it is time for CA to revisit its rotation policy.

Simply trotting out the line that players are overworked nowadays is extremely questionable.

It wasn’t that long ago that the likes of Terry Alderman, Geoff Lawson and Dennis Lillee would play up to five Sheffield Shield matches and numerous domestic one-dayers each season between Test and ODI commitments.

Nowadays, players hardly turn out for their states because they are ordered to rest by the powers that be at CA.

Surely then they do not need additional rest periods when Test matches are being played.

The baggy green has always been regarded as one of the most treasured commodities in Australian sport.

Let’s have the best players, especially when they are in form, playing in the Test arena.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 6 January 2013