The words ‘fast bowlers’ in combination with ‘workloads’ often generates the ire of the old school fraternity in the cricket community. However, the controversy is overstated and the science is in.
Elite fast bowler injury incidences have decreased. Foster et al. (1989) reported 38% of developing elite male fast bowlers in the late 1980s sustained a debilitating injury throughout the course of a season. However, contemporary research shows this incidence has substantially decreased. Orchard et al. (2012) report annual fast bowling injury incidence reached a trough of less than 10% in 2004-05. Unfortunately, this number did rise sharply in the following years as the advent of T20 cricket created heavily congested competition schedules. However, with improved conditioning methods and workload management strategies, this number has now stabilised into the mid teens and demonstrates the efficacy of modern sports sciences practices in cricket.
In response to the increase in fast bowler injuries in the early 2010s, organisations like Cricket Australia worked extensively to better understand how workloads affect injury and what sort of recommendations may help to reduce incidence. This process was iterative and exploratory, but has now evolved into a very sound system and clear evidence-based, practical guidelines have emerged.
The most common workload related risk factors for injury are: high chronic workloads (3-month chronic bowling load), sharp spikes in acute workload (acute:chronic workload ratio >1.5), insufficient recovery between bowling days (bowling on too many consecutive days), under-preparedness (bowling too infrequently) and excessive bowling frequency (bowling too many days in the week).
To combat these risk factors, we can use the ‘135 Rule’ (U17 year olds) and the ‘246 Rule’ (18+ year olds).