Doing it tough: Are modern cricketers really tasked with heavy workloads?
In recent debates over who should replace David Warner to open for Australia, I’ve seen suggestions that Cameron Green’s form declined in the Ashes because he was tired thanks to a heavy workload – two Tests and a couple of one-dayers in India, followed by a full IPL season.
I was reminded of Stuart Broad’s proposal that the 2021-22 Ashes should be considered null and void because the players had to cope with oppressive COVID travel restrictions. (When it’s not null and void, it’s a moral victory – have I got that right?)
Staying in first-class hotels, with occasional bio-bubbles, forced to spend two whole months of the balmy English winter in Australia and even having to spend time with their families. All on incomes in the UK’s top percentile. The horror!
Acting England coach Paul Collingwood claimed after the series that the England players deserved medals, and dwelt on the hefty workload his players had endured in recent times. Then-captain Joe Root spent 93 days on the cricket field in 2021.
Australia had its own exploited class: Glenn Maxwell topped out at 101 days in the 12 months before taking a break in 2019, mentioning the burden of constant playing and travelling while scraping through on upwards of $30,000 for each day in the field.
Moved by their sacrifice, I lobbied our two countries’ Prime Ministers to mint a special Broady-Colly-Maxy medal for Remembrance Day, commemorating our cricketers’ gallantry along with those fallen at Gallipoli, the Somme, Kokoda Trail and the Falklands. Alas, no answer yet from Anthony Albanese and Rishi Sunak.
But speaking of past heroes, it might be instructive to compare Green’s workload with some players of the yesteryear. Namely, Jacques Kallis of South Africa, whose feats as an all-rounder we all hope Green can match; and Richard Hadlee, arguably one of the five greatest fast bowlers of all time, who was also a handy batsman.
I compared their workloads in an October-July span over one year, the period Green played from the beginning of the 2022-23 Australian season until his last Test in July 2023. I picked two spans in which I had a hunch they were pretty busy, 1996-97 for Kallis and 1985-86 for Hadlee, although these may not actually be their busiest years.
I compared the number of days played (with 0.5 days for a T20); the number of games played in each format; runs scored; and overs bowled. Here are the results:
Player Total days First Class One-dayers T20s Overs Runs Games
C. Green 51, 10, 3, 20, 192, 852
J. Kallis 112, 20, 38, 381, 2378
R. Hadlee 112, 21, 41, 1087, 1481
Sorry, Prime Ministers, it seems I must withdraw my medal proposal. Cam Green played only 45 per cent of the days that both Kallis and Hadlee took to the field. He bowled less than 20 per cent of Hadlee’s overs, and Hadlee faced about twice as many balls in the middle, estimated on the basis of their respective scoring rates in different formats (Hadlee averaged 34 with the bat across all competitions that year, along with a measly 17 bowling).
This didn’t seem to tire out Hadlee, who turned 35 in July 1986. In August, he was named Man of the Series in New Zealand’s historic first series win in England, bagging 19 wickets at 20.5. The previous summer, Hadlee had spearheaded first-time victories over Australia in two three-Test series home and away.
In the days before T20s and central contracts, professional cricketers from the southern hemisphere often played a lot more games because it was harder to make a living and they were expected to play full seasons for their domestic provinces alongside and between Tests. Some played English county cricket, if they could get a contract.
For example, in February 1997 Kallis played a four-day Currie Cup match then a three-day match for Western Province against the touring Australians before the first Test, then another Currie Cup match between the first and second Tests. Doesn’t happen today.
But Hadlee and Kallis look like veritable slackers compared to Australian skipper Allan Border, who statistician Charles Davis found had the busiest calendar year of all – on the field on 183 days in 1986, nearly double Root’s 2021 burden and triple Green’s last year.
Border’s schedule included 11 Tests and 21 ODIs, a five-month County season with champions Essex, several games for Queensland and tours to India and New Zealand. Going back to the almost fully amateur era, Aussie opener Bill Lawry averaged 93 days annually, exactly the same as Root’s 2021 load.
Of course, early tours between Australia and England entailed sea voyages of four-six weeks until the 1950s and absences of six or seven months. The champions of doing it the hard way were the 1878 Australian team.
They travelled to and across England, North America, New Zealand and the Australian countryside in uncomfortable steamships, trains and horses-and-buggies for over a year, covering an estimated 70,000 miles and funding the venture from their own pockets.
By the end, fast bowler Fred Spofforth played 77 matches across some 190 playing days, sending down the equivalent of 2260 six-ball overs (taking 813 wickets at an average of 6.3) – double Hadlee’s 1986-87 output.
This puts some perspective on English commentators’ claims that Mark Wood was “bowled into the ground” in the 2021-22 Ashes. Wood delivered a grand total of 120 overs in the season, in just four Tests with no tour games.
Great Ashes quicks like John Snow and Jeff Thomson might scratch their heads. Snow bowled the equivalent of 301 six-ball overs in the 1970-71 Ashes and 449 across the whole tour. Thomson – possibly fastest of all time – bowled 479 in the 1974-75 summer.
Something to contemplate for today’s players who start to feel a bit jaded or sore?
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