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Monday, 08 January 2018 08:22

Cricket: Fast Bowlers - 'Listen to Your Body'

Written by  Jonathan Cook

I asked Pietermaritzburg-based physiotherapist Neil van Biljon to chat about fast bowling as it pertains to the body as well as general pointers to guide schoolboy athletes in whatever sports code.

Also chatted with Maritzburg College biokineticist Jason Greeff on the difference between the skills of the physio and bio plus how they work together in bringing the sports player back to the field of play.

Plus, I looked at an exciting initiative to unlock the undoubted wealth of fast bowling talent that lies dormant in this country due to socio-economic and other constraints.

First up, let's hear what Jason, has to say: He's a Selborne and Stirling Old Boy who has honours degrees in biokinetics and sports science.

Over to Jason: "Basically the difference between a bio and a physio is that the physio handles the initial phase of injury, a bio takes over from the physio for the player or athlete to return to play.

"Physios handle the acute injury, they deal with chronic injuries as well, but acute being the initial injury once it's occurred. Physios handle the fibro blast repair phase, all the inflammation, they help the muscle heal, the swelling the initial healing.

"Once the wound has healed and there's pain-free range of motion there'll be a handover from the physio to the bio because those muscles have atrophied, they have become weaker because they haven't been used.

"The bio's job is to strengthen those muscles to make that a) that injury doesn't re-occur but also to get the player up to speed with their fitness so they can get back on the pitch."

Biokineticist Jason Greeff did his internship with the Sharks under the legendary Jimmy Wright, a man with 30-plus years in the field, working with pro athletes.

"Jimmy, I learnt so much from him; every time I sat with him there was something new to take away. I was privileged in having that exposure at such a high level and it laid a solid foundation for my working with teams."

For physiotherapist Neil van Biljoen, much the same path has been travelled with different mentors and studies. The PBHS Old Boys and talented first team hockey player himself suffered an injury at a relatively young age that also hampered a promising hockey career, so he has first-hand and theoretical knowledge of how frustrating it can be for an injured athlete of whatever sports code.

Neil put the challenge I gave him with regard to managing a teenage (and younger) fast bowler and (in a general sense) a young sportsperson of whatever sports code in categories that are worth taking note of.

WHY WE TRAIN: To provide the body with adequate load to enforce positive physiological adaptations, i.e. improved fitness, skill levels and mental endurance.

"TOO HIGH LOAD: Results in negative adaptations from the body (counterproductive) forcing the athlete to need a longer recovery phase. Worst case scenario it brings about damage to soft tissue structures. Training too quickly after a bout of overload can result in further negative adaptations and risk of Overtraining Syndrome (OTS).

"LOAD MANAGEMENT: Onus is on the athlete, coaches, trainers, physios and sports scientists to track the athlete's loading and try fit them into the loading “sweet spot” where the body is positively adapting to the load (i.e. getting fitter) and at the same time protecting the body from damage and overuse injuries.

"ADOLESCENT PACE BOWLERS AT HIGH RISK - Multifactorial risk factors in this group of athletes.
"Vertebral growth plates have been shown to close from 18 till age 23 (in extreme cases). We can safely assume at 19 this physeal closing has taken place most commonly. This coupled with max bone mass volume only being reached at age 18 leaves this group of sportsmen at high risk of lower-back stress fractures when they are put through high bowling volumes week in and week out. A typical bowling action can exert up to 30 times (of) body weight worth of pressure through the lumbar spine. This is increased in bowlers with “mixed-on” actions.

"SOLUTIONS: It goes without saying that “core strengthening” in the off-season is crucial. Better communication between health professionals and coaches is the key, in my opinion. There are numerous ways to manage the players’ load via apps, questionnaires or simply counting their overs bowled in a week. All players are different and need to be managed individually. Interestingly enough “low load” can be just as detrimental. The key times when injuries tend to be a problem can also be after a long off-season or after a long injury lay-off. Coming back to training at high volumes can be dangerous. The basic rule of thumb is low intensity training/low over volumes with 10% increment increases per week.

"LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Consult a professional if anything feels out of the ordinary. The body does tend to give warning signs ahead of major injuries. These must be adhered to. Prevention is better than cure."

Ties in nicely with the above is the exciting Audi Q5 Fast Track initiative which has as one of its aim the desire to find the undiscovered young fast bowlers of tomorrow.

The revolutionary Audi Bowling Lab technology was part of a nationwide tour, named: Audi Q5 Fast Track, a state-of-the-art technology to identify bowling talent in disadvantaged areas. 

Says former Proteas fast bowler Mfuneko Ngam: "The technology provided by Audi as part of the bowling lab can instantly analyse a bowler’s action, speed, line and length, giving a coach the insights he needs to spot bowlers with potential as quickly and accurately as possible.  It is undoubtedly the future of coaching.  With the help of Audi’s latest SUV model, the new Q5, we were able to transport this technology to areas where kids would not have previously had the opportunity to showcase their skills. This was undoubtedly a watershed moment for talent identification.

"Over the course of the Audi Q5 Fast Track I was privileged enough to visit similar locations in Durban, Mthatha, Polokwane and Cape Town. What I found in each province never wavered – reams of talented young, fast bowlers with the skill and drive to potentially forge careers for themselves out of cricket. I could never have imagined the extent of fast bowling talent lying in wait – ready to prove their abilities. 

To name a few: "Across South Africa we were exposed to the skills of Abigail Mantjane, a young lady whose line and length consistency was outstanding; Gerhardus Fourie who, at just 15 years old, is bowling at speeds consistently reaching the 130km/h mark; Sibabalwe Takatshana, an immensely talented young lady from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape and Kovilan Pillay whose passion for cricket matched his great talent.

"These individuals will now be put in front of CSA’s development structures. The next step for them is not only hard work but smart work.  Ensuring that they aren’t bowling too much or pushing themselves too hard, that they understand the importance of nutrition in their development and that they find a correct balance between training and school work, will be imperative to their future success.  The best of these individuals will now have access to all of this guidance – an opportunity that they may not have dreamed of receiving a month ago.    

"The results of this initiative don’t only include opportunities for talented individuals but will also foster a broader talent pool for CSA to work with.  South Africa has a legacy of world class, fast bowlers.  The likes of Ntini, Pollock, Donald, Steyn, Rabada and Philander have been recent custodians of this legacy.  There is now hope that one of the youngsters we encountered over the past month will continue to carry out this great tradition."