I always look forward to the Lions vs Titans games, when I can have a good chat with Dicky Kruger, my counterpart in Pretoria. Our experience in fitness training comes from different backgrounds, so we always pick up new ideas from each other. Added to that, we both enjoy challenging and being challenged!
We were discussing the good form of the Titans and the way that inexperienced players fitted in and performed so well. Dicky replied with a one-liner that summed it all up:
"But we bowled and trained more than any other franchise..."
Dicky summed up what current thinking has turned to in cricket - something that a highly regarded conditioning coach, Tim Gabbett, has found in Australian cricket:
Keeping bowlers wrapped in cotton wool was counter-productive: the players who bowled more and trained more, got injured less
This falls into line with what Gordon Parsons, the Lions bowling coach has said for years:
Bowlers must bowl themselves fit.
This brings me to some points I made in my last article:
Cricket is a game of skill. To win games, those skills must be performed in the face of pressure, stress, and the onset of fatigue, which will be applied in skills practice. Fitness training must prepare players firstly for practice, then for matches.
The intention of any conditioning must be to enhance those skills under pressure, stress and the onset of fatigue.
So in effect, the fitness components we work on are not only speed, strength, power, etc. but skill-strength, skill-speed, skill-endurance...
However, if in the pre-season, you stop doing skill training and only do conditioning, you are facing potential injury disaster. Skill training must be started almost from the word go - obviously at a relatively low intensity, and building up. Research has shown that volumes and intensity should not go up more than 10% per week.
So if you write UPA prospective preseason training schedule, it could take the following form:
Bowling: starting off with a reduced run-up and low volumes, increasing weekly.
Fielding: ball drills and tennis ball catches to start, progressing to hard ball drills.
Batting: this is the domain of the coaches... I've never needed to interfere!
Development of a good strength base - preferably based on supervised weight training.
Olympic lifting is an extremely productive training method in any explosive, intermittent sport such as cricket. At this point, now is the time to teach, or re-teach the basic technical aspects.
Running: I am not a fan of distance running. Interval training has proven very effective, including h.i.i.t, track work, and using the all-blacks fitness test (the bronco) as a training drill. Intensity is submaximal to start, building up gradually.
Boxing is very useful - cardiovascular efficiency, motor skills, agility and speed of thought are all relevant to cricket. I've found boxing fitness to be a massive factor in pre-season training. We take it seriously enough to have a professional boxer on board.
Core stability, shoulder stability, flexibility, trunk strength and prehab are also taken care of... basic to start, gaining in complexity with time.
Pre-season is also the time to teach or reinforce good habits: correct eating patterns, proper rest and recovery methods, maintaining good health (including washing hands regularly to prevent the spread of flu) and for players to learn to be self-reliant, so as not to create a culture of dependence.
As players get fitter, training intensity and loads will increase, as with skills training. The intention is to be able to maintain good skills training and conditioning into the season, and in so doing, keep the players cricket fit, and on the field!
Fitness trainer, Bizhub Highveld Lions