Pull the other one – England’s Ashes injury hoodoos

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Injuries. They’re the bane of the England cricket team’s existence. And every time there’s an Ashes tour down under things just go from bad to worse.

Back in the 1990s England only seemed to have two players the Aussies worried about: Darren Gough and Graham Thorpe. Therefore it was odds on they’d both get injured either before or during the tour … thus making an impossible task even more impossible – if degrees of impossibility are indeed possible.

Back in 2002, both Thorpe and Gough were named in the squad, but both pulled out before the first test in Brisbane arrived. This came after Gough left the 1994/95 tour early with a broken foot, and Thorpe left the 1998/99 tour with a bad back.

Basically, if you were English and any good at cricket, you stood absolutely no chance of finishing an Ashes series. Australia were always a much better side than England during this period, but at least the games might have been more competitive without England’s harsh injury hoodoo.

A bunch of crocks

The situation probably reached its nadir on the infamous 2006/7 tour when England were defending the Ashes for the first time in decades. Everyone was hoping for a repeat of the 2005 nail-biter, but injuries decimated the team before we left Blighty, and just got more and more ridiculous from there.

Michael Vaughan, whose captaincy was instrumental in winning that fantastic 2005 series, was ruled out with a knee injury before the tour began. Then the vice-captain (and possibly our best batsman) Marcus Trescothick went home after a few days with a stress related illness. This left Andrew Flintoff in charge, who we’ve subsequently discovered was also suffering from a mental illness throughout that tour. You couldn’t make it up.

The injury jinx obviously didn’t stop there. We had Steve Harmison’s constant battle with homesickness, Ashley Giles’ sore hip, and Simon Jones played no part in the series thanks to … well, it could have been any number of injuries with him really. Poor bloke.

Basically the famous five-pronged attack that had done so much to win the Ashes the year beforehand was in tatters. Only Matthew Hoggard, who was probably the least suited to Australian wickets, managed to perform anywhere near his best. No wonder we lost 0-5.

Of course, the Aussies absolutely revelled in our misery. The Twelfth Man had a field day. Billy Birmingham’s spoof of the tour labelled England ‘a bunch of crocks’, with (I must admit) amusing consequences. Billy’s narrative described England calling up Tony Greig and Mark Nicholas in desperation, and then taking a punt on one of Flintoff’s mates from the Barmy Army … who subsequently threw a punch at Glenn McGrath I recall.

Pass the sicknote please, matron

The last time England toured Australia the injury situation was almost as bad. Jonathan Trott did a Trescothick and went home, Matt Prior never looked fully fit, and Graeme Swann decided that his elbow was too sore to carry on playing. He retired with a bowling average of 29.999 recurring … convenient that.

It’s also worth remembering that Kevin Pietersen went into the series with a knee injury that hampered him throughout, Chris Tremlett wasn’t in top physical shape, and things got so bad that Scott Borthwick played as a specialist spinner at Sydney.

Four other players were called into the squad at various stages too: Simon Kerrigan, James Taylor, Monty Panesar, and Chris Woakes. How much bad luck can one side have? I would go on but I usually try to block the whole 2013 series from my memory.

Will history repeat itself?

Sadly the injury bug seems to be hitting England again. Which is why most cricket predictions are tipping the Aussies to win. Toby Roland-Jones was ruled out weeks ago, and although Ben Stokes’s likely absence has nothing to do with physical injury (well, not to Stokes anyway), his replacement Steve Finn has already been ruled out with a knee problem.

How often do bowlers get injured while batting in practice? Not very often … unless you’re a Pom on an Ashes tour, in which case it’s bound to happen. I fully expect Finn’s replacement, Tom Curran, to fall down some stairs at the airport and break his leg.

Thankfully the news on Moeen Ali seems a little more positive, with Trevor Bayliss indicating he’ll be fit for the first Test. However, if past experience is anything to go by, Moeen will probably be struck down with the bubonic plague, or some other random illness, if his hip does indeed make a timely recovery.

Although Joe Root is likely to be our most important player on the pitch this winter, the key man is actually going to be Ben Langley, our physio. If he can keep Root, James Anderson, Alastair Cook, and Stuart Broad fit, then the bloke deserves a medal.

Unfortunately, however, he probably he has zero chance of making this happen. I suspect that Glenn McGrath, or someone equally sinister, has a voodoo doll for each of them. That’s why he’s able to predict 5-0 whitewashes with such confidence.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with oddsdigger.com

17 comments

  • Spot on James.
    The problem is largely due to insufficient cricket, 4 day that is, not T20. If you add on enforced “rest” periods, too many jobs for the boys “specialist” coaches and restrictive central contracts it’s very much an issue. Gym work and fitness training have a place but nothing beats playing. Going back, players like Trueman and Gooch played in all Tests and County Games which often started the day after a Test Match. Never got injured. Today Bairstow got so bored with resting he went of and played golf. Of course the spivs at the ECB will let certain players play for their counties when it’s suits them and other not. Oops. Did I hint favouritism?
    I’m pleased for Tom Curran, at least he rarely gets injured because he bowls lots of overs for Surrey, well at least till England get hold of him. Of course Plunkett was the obvious choice to anyone with a cricket brain, but then we’re talking ECB again.

  • Good read as ever. Yes the injury situation is a strange one. I think the game is hugely different now compared to what it was. Bowlers (in the old days) would take a few overs to warm up and could pace themselves in the county game. Todays athletic requirements would have Fred Truman spinning in his grave (Buried at Bolton Abbey if anyone ever fancies visiting it).
    But nonetheless in today’s managed environment it is a curious phenomenon.
    You did miss out Jimmy Anderson broken rib injury caused by being put in a Boxing ring with the 6’7 Chris Tremlett on the last tour. Who saw that one coming? Anderson obviously didn’t the poor bloke. He had a poor series unsurprisingly. Was that down to Flower choice of fitness coach? Who knows.

  • Apparently Boyd Rankin wasn’t fully fit in the Test he played either. Although a fully fit Rankin probably wouldn’t have made much difference.

  • Excuses excuses, professional players have no excuse for a lack of fitness. Even time in the middle or overs bowled isn’t an issue as anyone not in the matchday team can bat or bowl outside of the game and on rest days.. they haven’t payed so shouldn’t rest

  • I’m deeply suspicious of what these trainers, fitness coaches, “performance managers” do to the players. I’m sure Fred Trueman (nor Lindwall, Bedser, Holding, etc) never lifted a weight in his life and didn’t need to. Anyone who’s ever bowled for a couple of hours in the nets, especially after a winter break, knows that doing the job exercises all the necessary bits.

    Have to say that, although I can’t stand the guy, Swann probably made the right decision. Why Flower was unable to just slot in Monty is more evidence of his limitations as a coach.

  • Even in 2010, there were injuries. Broad went home with a side strain. I can’t remember if Finn got injured, or was just dropped and replaced by Tremlett. Fortunately, that was about the only thing that went wrong in that series, other than Mitchell J finding his radar only worked in Perth.

  • The only example of an England player so badly injured on an Ashes tour they were invalided out of the entire series and a replacement had to be flown in during the entire 1970s and 1980s I can think of was when Thomo broke Brian Luckhurst’s knuckle in 1974/75 and they sent for Colin Cowdrey. There aren’t even many examples of players missing an individual Test because of injury (Dilley and Botham both missed one Test in 1986/87 for example but there aren’t many more).

  • When I hear stories about sporting injuries to today’s top players, whether it be cricket, footie or rugby, I am always reminded of the Fred Truman anecdote from the 1950’s, where, on the way to Australia by ship, the preferred means of the time, which could take about 6 weeks apparently, he was asked by captain Peter May to join the rest of the team in early morning jogging round the decks and some physical jerks. His succinct reply, in printable form, was to the effect that as he’d bowled over 1,000 overs that season what he needed was rest, not more exercise.
    Injuries seem to be a lot more prevalent in top line sport these days since it became fashionable to spend half your life in the gym. I know general fitness levels have improved as a result, but when it comes to specialist activities like bowling in cricket, where incredible strain is put on small parts of the body in what is not a natural set of movements, I cannot help feeling the gym is not the answer. I always remember seeing a fantastic picture of Graham Dilley in delivery stride, in The Cricketer magazine, where he appears to be supporting his entire body weight on his left toe. Also these days the top players play far more stressful high profile games than ever before, where half the world seems to be watching and performances are analysed into the dust. Once you have made it into the public domain it appears there is no respite. This must also be a contributory factor. International sport is a cash cow, where the player’s well being is collateral damage. Think of the likes of Trescothic and Trott, both quitting whilst at the top. Even if you think you can cope with the constant stress mentally, the physical side of it is out of your control without respite.

  • Scary, scary post! such a pity when you think how much more competitive some of the ashes tours could’ve been! lets hope there’s no 5-0 whitewashing lurking around this time!

By James Morgan

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