Saturday, December 23, 2006

Fast bowlers need at least four days rest

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This seems almost certain, if baseball pitchers are a reasonable comparison.

In baseball the starting pitcher usually throws (from a standing position) about 100 plus pitches before being taken-off and rested - for *four days*!

Yet a pitcher will do nothing but throw - plus catch a few balls that come in his direction, and (in the National League) try to bat.

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By comparison a fast bowler probably delivers well in excess of a hundred deliveries a day, with a run-up which may be long and quick, and he is expected to field just like anyone else when not bowling (and he has to bat - and run between the wickets, of course).

Then he often comes back and does the same the next day - maybe three days out of five? - then (in back-to-back tests) he must travel (perhaps in cramped conditions, unable to stretch for long periods), and perhaps get two or three days off before starting all over.

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Baseball starting pitchers are rested for four days between starts, because careful record-keeping has shown that otherwise their performance declines significantly (ie. their speed and control) and their career is probably shortened as well.

This kind of data is routinely gathered in baseball. The result is that Major League teams have at least five starters in a five day rotation.

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But has anyone ever even kept such statistics for cricket? Or acted upon the results?

How do quick bowler's average performances compare on day two of a long innings compared with day one: what is the average speed, the number of wides and no-balls, the economy rate, the number of wickets and bowling average?

Does a fast bowler's performance decline (on average) in the second of back-to-back tests? Does it matter whether his team bowls or bats first in the second test?  

Do bowler's injuries correlate with number of deliveries bowled per unit time, over a sufficiently large sample of bowlers?

How much rest do bowlers need on average, to maintain their performance levels; and how frequently must they rest in order to maintain their pace and accuracy?

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My hunch is that this statistical information is not routinely gathered because people are worried about what they might find, and the consequences.

On the other hand, if carefully gathered and analyzed, such statistics would allow quick bowlers to be rested such that their performance levels were maintained.

In particular we need to know at what point it would (on average) give better results to employ an inferior but fresher bowler, compared with a better one who is knackered.

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There might be a huge reward for better management of bowlers, because even fast-balling baseball pitchers are sometimes able to keep playing at the highest level into their early forties (eg. currently including Roger 'the Rocket' Clemens - 44; Randy 'the Big Unit' Johnson - 43) - while quick bowlers such as Glenn McGrath are considered ancient at 35, and have-to retire from international cricket.

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[Note added 6 Dec 2013 - Subsequent revelations have suggested that it may be that some of these long-lived pitchers achieved this feat partly by usage of performance-enhancing drugs. However, if so, perhaps it is reasonable to assume that such drugs were also used by the younger players, so it may not affect the point being argued.]
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2 Comments:

Blogger Michael Wolf said...

Maybe. This article and especially this one suggest that it's not quite that simple.

It seems like not pitching while fatigued may in fact be more important than the number of pitches or the frequency of pitching.

Because the laws of cricket are different, the dynamics of the two sports are also very different.

Specifically:

* No replacement players in cricket (the 12th man is mostly irrelevant, although tactically used he could allow bowlers a break from fielding).

* Subject to only a few restrictions, bowlers bowl when the captain tells them to, and can be given a break from bowling longer than an over but not as long as an innings.

* While still in the attack, bowlers get more regular rest (I think). In baseball an inning can take ages, but an over is just 6 balls (or maybe 8 someday :)). The breaks are afforded at fairly regular intervals and for fairly regular amounts of time.

So it might be more useful to ask questions about bowlers bowling too many consecutive overs and/or too many overs in a day.

But I don't know. I agree with your point that this information needs to be gathered and analyzed. Sooner or later some side will do so, and probably be quite successful as a result.

I guess my point is that the differences in rules (and in pitching/bowling action!) between cricket and baseball are large enough that people should ask some of the same questions, but shouldn't necessarily seek the same answers, since they'll likely be different in both subtle and profound ways.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

Thanks for these comments.

Of course I agree that pitching and bowling are different, but I am surprised that cricket's statistical analysts don't try asking some of the same questions - because it ought to be possible to get some fairly reliable answers.

One factor may be that cricket fans are reluctant to acknowledge the large element of chance which leads to statistical 'noise'.

This means that an exhausted bowler whose bowling is not very good might still get a bagful of wickets in a game - and this doesn't really prove anything either way.

You need to analyze many bowlers over many matches to see if there is a pattern.

10:50 AM  

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