The Ashes is here! And with it, comes some possibly unfair perceptions that cricket is a game for unfit folk and nothing more…
Watch an amateur game on any given (dry) Saturday and you will probably see an overweight man struggling to chase after a ball. But you will also see a well built, lean and mean lad running and hurling a bowl down at great speed.
It’s time for a balanced argument and to answer the question: is cricket good for fitness?
Reasons cricket is good for fitness
1. Short bursts of energy
Cricket does involve a lot of standing, but when you are called to action, you need to put in as much effort as possible. Batsmen will plug away and at times, will need to run very fast between wickets in order to get as many runs as possible.
Fast bowlers, arguably the fittest cricketers around, need to be in incredibly good shape as they use a large amount of energy in a small burst.
This level of activity is akin to HIIT, which is in fact, very good for fat loss.
Standing around might not sound like it’s that hard. But if you have ever spent a day on your feet, for work or play, you’ll know that it can get tiring. Pro cricketers have to do this for days at end, with training in between.
Therefore, apart from using supplements to help recover, they need to build up the ability to endure such “torture” and to come back from it quickly.
While standing around for long periods of time, players also need to concentrate. Just as compound lifting exercises can help your concentration, standing in the field, or batting for long periods of time can help you focus. Yes more of a mental health benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.
If you have ever seen Chris Gayle (above) or Kevin Pietersen bat, you’ll notice their immense strength. Much of this will be from time in the gym, but if you play cricket, either bat or bowl, then you will see some strength increases.
Bowling in particular will help build up your shoulders and arms, as long as your technique is sound. And that’s where things start to go wrong…
Reasons cricket is bad for fitness
1. It’s easy to get injured
Fast bowlers are known as some of the most injury sportsman around. The reason is that they put incredible amounts of pressure on their joints and muscles. If they have a flaw in the technique or “action” then this pressure gets magnified. This is similar to how lifting with poor form can cause serious injuries due to muscle imbalances.
Batsman too can have it tough, as a cricket ball is, as we know, quite hard. The tragic death of Phillip Hughes proved how dangerous the sport can be, and the death of a cricketer in Surrey also gave us a timely reminder. These are however freak incidents, which happen very rarely.
2. Unfit food
The pros will have whatever food they want given to them on request. But for amateurs you are looking at a selection of sausage rolls, cakes and crisps. Good for energy, but you will be consuming a lot of high GI carbs and bad fats.
Pros may have it good now, but up until the early 90s, there was little commitment to fitness. There is even still the odd relic of this bygone era knocking around…
3. You can be unfit and still play
If you are naturally talented batsman like Inzamam-ul-Haq or a world class spin bowler like Shane Warne, then it doesn’t matter if you are fit or not.
But intrinsically, this does mean that unlike football or tennis for example, you can be unfit and still play. Which doesn’t promote good health in the first place! What’s the point in getting in shape if you can have cheat day every day and still play?
Dwayne Leverock (above) proved this, by being 20 stone and playing in the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
4. Long period of nothingness
You’ve finished fielding, and you’re waiting to bat. And you continue to wait. Then some more. And so this goes on.
What’s good for endurance when fielding, can also be good for sitting around and mindlessly munching on snacks.
Cricket can help with fitness, but you shouldn’t play cricket to get fit. You can play cricket if you aren’t in good shape, but if you want to get better, get fit. Just don’t hit the gym too much; practice makes perfect and all that.