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How fitness in professional cricket has changed - Phil Scott
Phil Scott is one of the UK's leading authorities on fitness training for cricket. He is head of strength and conditioning for the ECB, currently preparing England's top players for the Ashes Tour later this year. Having been at the heart of the game's physical transition with strength and endurance now often been the difference between winning and losing, he is better placed than anyone to talk about what elite performance really means. Here he shares his journey so far with Castore.
How have fitness and conditioning levels in cricket evolved in the past 3 years?
The short answer is hugely. I believe with the emergence of T20 cricket and the explosive nature of the format it is easy for players themselves to make links between how better physical preparation and performance are integrated. Within the English game and the recent announcement from the ECB on their new T20 competition starting in 2020 I believe there will be a focus from players who are not quite at test cricket level to aim to make an impact in that tournament and staying on top and excelling physically is something that can be very much taken advantage of by the players.
On a micro scale there has definitely been a focus from clubs and countries at the academy level. There has always been academy’s around but the systems and expertise in place has improved a lot in recent times. With this you will see the next generation of players coming through who will continue to push what is expected from cricketers. All sports are pushing standards continuously and the focus at this level will dictate to a large extend how high those standards in cricket will reach.
How big a role has improved fitness played in England's ability to compete with the world's best?
England have now had a sustained period of success since 2005 and you cannot do that without improving levels of fitness which I believe was a large part of Duncan Fletcher’s philosophy that helped the Ashes winning team of 2005. It is always growing as an area to focus on as players see and feel the benefits after periods of training. With the use of new technologies, such as the Catapult GPS, it has been easier to show the player exactly what they have been doing when batting, fielding or bowling and from there they understand exactly what they need to do and most importantly why. As soon as a player understands why they would do something then they see it as a challenge to get better in that area.
A calendar year of cricket for England can see the team and support staff on the road for up to 320 days of the year. Aside from the obvious performance impacts of improved fitness it is also necessary due to the fact that the fitter and stronger your players are they quicker they can recover which is arguably the key factor between teams when you have 2-3 matches in one week.
Are there any specific areas of strength and conditioning that you have looked to improve with England?
One particular area of focus is their movement skills. We all know that if you get stronger and more powerful then you will end up making yourself quicker by the fact that you have increased your rate of force production. However, if you are quicker but the way you move is still inefficient or at worst increasing the risk of injury then you will, over time, move towards that inevitable injury. Therefore, along side aiming to improve strength and power I believe it is very important to move well. High speed running has been a new area of focus as everyone knows what its like to strain a hamstring and also if you clean up your running technique from a high speed running point then it also lends itself to many other areas of correct form and movement pattern down the line i.e. throwing, fast bowling. The way I explain it is:
When you run at 70%, 80% you can get away with a few other options of how to do things (i.e poor technique)... you still get from A to B, right!? However, when you run at 100% it's best for your body to be in a good/correct position or things will start falling off.
It's like a car with a wobbly wheel or flat tyre, you can safely drive it at 15 mph to the nearest garage to get fixed at a low speed and it won't fall off, will it!? ... But if you drove that car with a wobbly wheel or flat tyre at 70mph you'd end up crashing even before you get to the garage. Problems!!
The clever thing about your brain is that if you have poor technique (wobbly wheels) it will only let you go a certain speed to protect you. Where as if you use better technique for your running your brain will learn that it's wheels are now stable and it will let you run faster.
Hence, over time you will be faster and less injury prone because your body has learnt how to be safe when running fast!
How long in advance of a major test serious does your conditioning programme begin and how does the intensity grow as you approach the series?
The reality of this is that the majority of the year we are in a competition phase and the time between one series to the next (without even including players having to go back and play domestic cricket or going to the IPL) is very short and so their program switches between in competition and out regularly as well as taking into consideration the recovery periods needed. The program that builds towards a major test series like the Ashes, that is coming up at the end of this year, is built around how the coaches and support staff believe it is best for a player to build up into that from a cricket point of view, for example, a certain player may reduce the volume of cricket played to allow an increase in conditioning prior to the tour with the thought process that the extra conditioning block will help the player through. As a rule though, and this can be applied across the board of sports, when you approach a taper period into a competition you want to reduce the volume but maintain the intensity and this is exactly how we will aim to bring players into a series/tournament. When in competition we will adjust the program around their match play since some days players will bowl less or not score runs and therefore we have opportunities to ‘top up’ their levels.
In what way do you see conditioning in cricket improving further in coming years?
I believe the culture of cricket is no longer comparable to the days of yesteryear and it is very exciting seeing the talent coming through with the skills and athletic ability. With players currently showing that they can sprint at over 36kph (Catapult GPS) and having to complete test matches where bowlers cover over 55km (34 miles) (Catapult GPS) and 10km for a test match hundred (Catapult GPS) there will inevitably be a responsibility of the player to look after themselves to continually perform at those levels. As mentioned, with the technology to objectify exactly what it is needed and the standards being reached by the top players it will continually drive these standards and expectations up. I really think that T20 will be a huge driving force behind this as there are still huge areas of physicality to be explored and improved upon across the board.