Not what the doctor ordered

Jon Culley examines the causes of the crippling injury list which under mined England's tour of Australia
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The Independent Online
Apart from the damage done to pride and reputation, England return from Australia with a considerable physical legacy, the evidence of which will be visible in county treatment rooms for weeks to come.

Of the 16 players originally picked, discounting two chicken pox victims, 10 suffered injuries serious enough to miss matches, five of those bad enough to receive their return tickets early. Alec Stewart and Neil Fairbrother, the latter one of six replacements, might as well have gone home too; neither was fit for the last two Tests. Ironically, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, whose resilience had been questioned on the grounds of age, escaped unscathed.

The effect of injuries on results is impossible to quantify. However, should Mike Atherton require statistical support in mitigation, the following might be relevant: individual absences since Stewart's first broken finger on 24 October cost more than 200 cricket days.

The early, long-term casualties contributed most to that figure. Martin McCague's stress fracture of the right shin, diagnosed on 6 December, effectively ruled him out of 37 days' cricket; Craig White, whose tour was curtailed on Christmas Eve because ofa damaged rib muscle, missed 32; Shaun Udal, first with a broken thumb and later a similar injury to White's, was unavailable on 24 days. Darren Gough (pulled hamstring, then stress fracture of left foot, 20 days), Graeme Hick (prolapsed disc in spine, 11 days) and Stewart (twice broken finger, 23 days) were others jacking up the total.

For the players, overcoming personal disappointment is the first hurdle. "I was devastated," White said. "I wanted to bowl well because of the time I lost last season when I had a stress fracture in the shin, and also because it was Australia." Born in Yorkshire, White grew up in Bendigo.

Udal's reaction was similar. "To say I was gutted would be an understatement," he said. "I had never missed a game through injury before this tour. Then I broke my thumb taking a return catch in the first match."

Udal, White and McCague should be fit to start the domestic season; perhaps even Gough, too, if he suffers no setbacks. Hick has been told he needs no surgery and is also hoping to be ready by late April.

Why were there so many casualties? A jinx? Not according to at least two county physiotherapists, both of whom believe the tour raises issues that need to be addressed urgently. Rob Stenner, of Leicestershire, whose experience with Chris Lewis alone demands respect, is concerned about insufficient rest and inadequate equipment.

"Modern cricket is an intense game," he said. "The body has to have rest periods to recuperate. If you play all year round, over-use injuries such as tendinitis, shin splints and stress fractures are much more likely. Practice is only beneficial if it isgood practice. If a bowler is putting everything into bowling in the nets when he should be resting he is putting himself at risk."

White blames bad footwear in part. "Boots need to be stronger and more stable. One of the reasons I got sore shins was that my ankles were rolling inwards. Cricket boots have not really changed in years." According to White, the bespoke boots Devon Malcolm wears cost £250 a pair. Crude do-it-yourself customising, such as cutting out the toes to reduce jar, does for other bowlers.

New technology and the potential threat of law suits, Stenner believes, have combined to improve diagnosis, creating the impression that there are more injuries. "At one time you might have told someone to carry on playing but not now. If someone complains of pain, you have to get it checked out."

But James Davies, Stenner's Essex counterpart, thinks early diagnosis is not necessarily matched by prompt action. "The most common over-use complaints are stress fractures of the lower back, shin splints and shoulder injuries," Davies said. "But they have certain well-defined symptoms. Stress fractures don't just happen. There are warning signs."

Davies believes the lessons to be learned from the Australians stretch beyond the cricket field. "There are things the Australians have known for a decade which have not been acted upon in this country. Steps could be taken which could make a significantdifference to the number of days lost through injury.

"But cricket is very slow to change here and there is a lack of communication between physios and coaches. There is not enough exchange of ideas."