CRICKET: Stress factor of troubled tours

Stephen Brenkley finds that foreign trips disrupted by injury are nothing new for England
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The Independent Online
INJURY and illness have always been among the more reliable partnerships on England cricket tours. Even so, they have been particularly potent in Australia this winter and the stress fracture which so abruptly terminated Darren Gough's glorious p arade last week was almost predictable.

Each of England's annual excursions appears to surpass the last one for the number and seriousness of afflictions. Three players have been forced to leave this tour so far, and the shoulder injury to Neil Fairbrother, one of the replacements, in his sec o nd match, embodied the trip.

It has been watched with barely a flicker of surprise by Laurie Brown, the physiotherapist who accompanied England on tour from the mid-Eighties to the last World Cup. He knows that gruelling itineraries equal nasty injuries. Brown never went on a tour whose original squad was intact by the end. He chose his words carefully but, chicken-pox and broken bones apart, he could probably have forecast much of the physical disarray which has befallen Mike Atherton's squad.

"We are expecting our international cricketers to play too much," he said. "I should have thought that was clear with the sorts of programmes they have. They may be fitter than ever, but they are exerting more toll on their bodies too.

"When you've got all these one-day matches mixed in with the Tests it begins to tell. Stress fractures aren't new as some people think, it's just that they get diagnosed properly now."

Brown, who is still the Lancashire physiotherapist each summer, was mystified by the criticism of Atherton for giving his players a day off after their miserable showing in the Melbourne Test. The players needed rest, he said. More work would have tired them more, left them more prone to injury. And the injury syndrome was also unconnected to changing lifestyles.

"The Australians play so little compared with us, and a lot of them have jobs away from cricket, which may help mentally. Our domestic season is frenetic; players come back tired from tours and then get more drained and are more likely to be injured."

Brown is unconvinced that, regardless of standards, there will be change to the structure of English cricket. It clearly concerns him that players are being expected to perform when injured. Five years on, he still grimaces at the memory of Robin Smith and Nasser Hussain defying severe pain and batting with broken finger and broken wrist respectively in Antigua when England's dressing-room resembled a casualty ward.

Twas ever thus. In the days before aeroplanes, replacements could not be sent for, and England parties have been down to 10 men on the odd tour. Although the present trip does seem to be particularly bad, it has so far not been afflicted like James Lillywhite's team of 1876-77 was. The opening batsman Henry Jupp was indisposed for several matches by what was diagnosed as a "bout of insanity". Probably a stress fracture before its time.