Why is Ben Hilfenhaus being rested?

Date: November 15, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

A week before naming the squad for the first Ashes Test Cricket Australia announced that four fast bowlers – Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus – were going to be ‘rested’ from the third round of Sheffield Shield fixtures that started yesterday.

Most took that as an indication that the quartet would be named in the squad for the opening Ashes encounter.

As we now know, only three were, with Hilfenhaus’ name not among the 12-strong squad that was realeased on Tuesday.

Yet, despite that fact, he did not take the field for Tasmania yesterday in the Shield match against Victoria at Bellerive Oval.

The question is … WHY?

Since 1 April, Hilfenhaus has bowled a grand total 107 overs spread across six matches.

All of those overs were sent down in the space of 42 days from 29 September and encompassed four 50-over Ryobi Cup matches (40 overs) and two Shield games (67 overs).

And after that workload it has been decided by the powers that be at CA that he deserves a rest.

As a result of sitting out the current fixture Hilfenhaus will play a maximum of another 12 days cricket – three Shield matches – between today and 21 December, which is in 38 days’ time.

Surely, no matter what level of common sense you apply to his situation it seems impossible to deduce that a bowler who has sent down 107 competitive overs in the space of 42 days – and that is his only match output since 1 April – needs a break.

We know that Australia’s current stocks in the fast bowling department are depleted due to injury with the likes of James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Josh Hazlewood and Patrick Cummins all unavailable for varying amounts of times but surely the answer to prevent injury in the future is not to reduce workloads to the extent that is happening with Hilfenhaus.

It used to be that it was expected that fast bowlers would have to contend with injuries.

A chap by the name of Dennis Lillee missed plenty of cricket with stress fractures in his back yet he still managed to carve out a career which some deem was the greatest by any quick bowler in the game’s history.

Whilst nobody wants to see players of any code sidelined through injury the current course that CA is on seems somewhat bizarre.

In the past few days Siddle has come out in response to comments from former Australian fast bowler and current NSW bowling coach Geoff Lawson with respect to the latter’s criticism of the current rotation/resting policy.

Siddle, in a radio interview on Melbourne radio station SEN, said, “The simple thing is that the games have increased. There’s a lot more now than Geoff Lawson would have played”.

I’m sorry Peter but if you are comparing yourself – one of those having a break this week – to Lawson’s workload than your sums simply do not add up.

In 1989, Lawson’s last year of international cricket, across all forms of representative cricket (Tests, ODIs, tour matches, Shield and domestic one-day games) he bowled a total of 1043 overs in the calendar year.

If Siddle averages 45 overs in each of the four Ashes Tests prior to Christmas he will finish this year having bowled 677 overs in competitive matches at a rate of 12.7 overs per week.

That represents 366 overs less than Lawson did in 1989.

Lawson toured England in 1989, just as Siddle did this year.

However, Lawson bowled 523 overs on his tour of the United Kingdom while Siddle sent down a mere 230.

In writing this article, I randomly chose another year from Lawson’s career – 1984.

In that year Australia embarked on only one overseas Test tour – to the Caribbean – and in the calendar year, in matches, Lawson bowled 671 overs, a figure virtually on par with what Siddle is likely to bowl throughout 2013.

And make no mistake, back in the days of the likes of Lawson and Lillee far more bowling was done in the nets than is the case nowadays where individual bowlers are only allowed to deliver a certain number of balls per training session so as to limit fatigue and possible injury.

Good luck to anyone who tried to tell the likes of Lillee or Lawson that they needed to stop bowling midway through a net session.

It can be argued that Siddle played his last ODI in November 2010 while Lawson was still playing at that level in 1984 and 1989.

But let’s leave Lawson aside and turn to Glenn McGrath.

While commentating the Australia A game against England in Hobart for the Nine Network last week, the man who holds the world record for most Test wickets by a fast bowler was decrying the rotation/rest policy that is currently in vogue with CA.

While Siddle can take pot shots at the workloads of players from another generation – and largely get it wrong – he certainly cannot argue that any of the present day bowlers have a significantly greater workload than McGrath who delivered more balls in Test cricket than any other Australian fast bowler and the most by any Australian bowler of any sort at ODI level.

McGrath, very much a modern-day cricketer, firmly believes that bowlers best condition themselves for bowling by bowling.

Nowadays it seems the greater priority is developing athletes first and bowlers second.

Surely it is time that CA had a total rethink of its policies with respect to the management of its fast bowlers.

As McGrath said last week, “We’re limiting how much they can bowl because in the past the odd fast bowler was getting injured. Now I think we’ve created problems by taking it too easy and not allowing the guys to bowl enough. There is nothing that you can do except bowling that can prepare you for bowling. I think we have gone too far and put everyone in cotton wool”.

Perhaps that is why the injury list in the last few years has swelled in concert with an increase of rotation and resting fast bowlers.

McGrath, whose career spanned 124 matches, once played 53 consecutive Tests and commented on the weekend, “If I played now, I wonder how many Test I’d play before I was asked to rest”.

Well, if the current farcical situation with respect to Ben Hilfenhaus is anything to go by, I reckon it wouldn’t have been many.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 14 November 2013