Coming in to bat - cricket as a fitness regime
31 Jan 2003
You want to get fit but the idea of running on a treadmill or ploughing into an opponent doesn’t really appeal. So why not take up cricket?
Cricket may not be famed for its lithe, fit practitioners, as this joke makes clear:
Two men were discussing the importance of fitness in the game of cricket. Said one, "When I'm at the crease, my body is highly tuned and as taut as a bowstring. The bowler comes up, bowls, and my brain snaps out a command to my body to get quickly behind the line, raise the bat and execute a perfect stroke."
The other man asks: "Then what happens?"
The first one replies: "My body says: 'Who, me?'"
But the sport is actually an ideal way of building up your fitness, even if you are chronically unfit, say advocates. For example, as a fielder in an unusual position, you won't be required to rush about all the time, but every now and again will need to chase after a ball and throw it back to the wicket. Then you will have time to recover while still remaining a vital part of the game.
When in bat, you have to concentrate and then if you strike the ball successfully run the length of the wicket for a run. Maybe back again for two. Then you have time to recover while the bowler starts his run-up again.
Best of both worlds
But while this may sound frivolous, it can be a real step to improved fitness. Because you are playing a competitive sport, you will want to improve your game and for each step in improvement, there is a corresponding increase in fitness. At national and top club level, cricketers are supremely fit.
Mark Hodgson of the England and Wales Cricket Board says the enduring appeal of cricket is that it's a unique mixture of an individual and team sport. "It is a team sport, but it is also one batsman facing one bowler."
As for fitness considerations, he says, "If you're a fast bowler and you are constantly running up and down the wicket - on a hot day you need quite a high level of fitness. Equally, a batsman may be batting for two, three hours if they do well and that can be really knackering. To do that well, you have to be fit, but equally you don't need a high level of fitness just to play."
A social sport
To achieve optimum fitness, cricketers tend to incorporate jogging with sprint training. They also do body-weight exercises, such as press-ups, and free weights. The emphasis is on building up strength rather than muscle, particularly in the arms and shoulders. Abdominal strengthening exercises are also very important because one side of body tends to be over-used in cricket.
One advantage of cricket, apart from the fact that you are getting fit without noticing, is that the game is very social. "There are 9,000 clubs across the UK. If you go along to your local club, the team will most likely be very welcoming," says Mr Hodgson.
Indeed, in many towns and villages the cricket club is a social epicentre on Saturdays and Sundays, with local residents turning out to support the team or just have a chat or a picnic.
Let's hear it for the ladies
And don't think that cricket is just for the men. While women's cricket in the UK has still to reach the same level as it has in other countries, particularly Australia, there are new women's clubs opening every year and the number playing has jumped 20 per cent in the past five years.
One woman who knows all about women's cricket is Sally Bailey, fitness advisor to the Australian women's team. "The game of cricket is particularly taxing - both physically and mentally," she says.
"Achieving and maintaining an acceptable level of physical fitness is a vital ingredient towards being a balanced and consistent cricket player."
And conversely, playing cricket will make you a fitter person. Being fit will help you run faster between wickets, jump higher to catch the ball, hit the ball harder and faster, and enable you to make quicker, more agile responses, she explains.
Go get involved
It is the nature of the game that makes fitness an intrinsic aspect. Games are long and require constant concentration, players are on their feet all day, and will have to make short sprints accelerating and decelerating extremely quickly.
When you are fielding, you test every part of your body as you perform crossover throws, hip throws and diving. Add to this the need to have a high level of mental alertness and you have an all-over body and mind workout.
So next time you find yourself running on a rotating piece of rubber in a sweaty gym, or, more likely, sitting on the couch pondering how to get fit, why not contact your local cricket club and see if they need more players? You can find a full list and contact numbers on the England and Wales Cricket Board's website.
England and Wales Cricket Board