I’ve not pulled the stats on this, but there’s a fair chance a lot of you have played a game of backyard cricket.
But how many of you have run a marathon?
To the untrained eye, the two probably seem worlds apart and only one can be done with a beer in hand.
Yet according to former Australian cricket captain Greg Chappell, the comparison between cricketer and runner is apt — particularly when it comes to the current Ashes series.
Speaking after the first Test, Chappell said the five-match series would be a gruelling slog for the players, equivalent to multiple long-distance running races.
“Five Test matches in six-and-a-half weeks is a real challenge for all the players, but particularly for the fast bowlers. It’s the equivalent of five marathons in six-and-a-half weeks,” he said.
“So it’s a huge effort and we will need all of our fast bowling stocks to make sure we get through the series.”
So we thought we’d put this claim to the test, and ask the people who should know.
Here’s their verdict.
What the cricketer says
Who: Stuart Clark
Credentials: Australian cricketer who played for NSW and the Australian Test team, including in the Ashes series. A right-arm fast bowler who took 94 wickets across 24 Tests, and played in 113 more first class matches.
First up, let’s look at the training schedule.
In the lead-up to a Test series it’s all about aerobic fitness, Clark said. There were the daily running sessions — mostly short and sharp — and weights training that focussed on one leg at a time to build strength.
Months out from a series a bowler might do heavy weights to build size, but that tapers off closer to match day.
“It’s very, very leg-based, running-based so you could run for long periods of time,” he said.
“Because when you had to bowl it was all about running and you had to have that momentum, you had to have those miles in your legs so when you were tired on day four or day five of a Test match you still had something to give.”
The pre-match diet would be heavy on the carbs like rice and pasta, but it was hydration that was the real focus.
Then there was the injury management.
Clark said most injuries for fast bowlers were stress-related, so think fractures in the foot or stress on the back. Calf and hamstring injuries were likely to creep in on day four or five of a Test as players became fatigued.
Psychologically, Clark said it was important to learn when and how to switch off during a match. When fielding he would focus on the delivery and possible hit, but then tune out.
“You’ve got to be able to switch off between balls, otherwise you send yourself nuts and you give yourself a headache within about 10 minutes,” he said.
So what is Clark’s verdict on Chappell’s claim?
“It’s difficult, I’ve never run a marathon, but I’ll put my cricket hat on and say bowling in a Test is far harder because running you just have to go in a straight line,” he said.
“There’s a lot of other variables that come into cricket. And then you have to bat as well when you’re tired and all that other stuff.
“But I still don’t have it in me to run a marathon, put it that way.”
What the marathon runner says
Who: Jess Trengove
Credentials: Australian marathon runner. Represented Australia at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games. Currently training for 2020 Olympics.
Jess Trengove has suffered two stress fractures in her feet from running. (Supplied: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News)
Again, let’s start with training.
In the lead-up to last year’s Commonwealth Games, Trengove was running up to 200 kilometres a week — which equated to about three hours a day — and then was doing a further few hours of strength and conditioning training over the week.
The exercises were lower weight, higher repetition moves and revolved around injury prevention.
“So it’s a lot of stability and core, hip, pelvic control exercises — more so than all-out heavy lifting,” she said.
In the days before a marathon, Trengove’s diet is heavy on the carbs, with things like rice and toast with honey. So not so different to Clark’s diet.
In the race itself, she uses energy gels that are high in electrolytes and carbs and can be taken on the run — literally.
When it came to the psychology of the race and types of injuries, there were again similarities to Clark’s experience.
Trengove said she had to switch between internal thoughts around getting a good rhythm, and “dissociative thinking strategies” like focussing on the crowd or anything to take her mind off the pain of the run.
She also had two stress fractures in her feet and said marathon runners also needed to take particular care of their hips, knees and pelvis.
“They’re probably a little different to a fast bowler. I wouldn’t say we put as much stress on our thighs,” she said.
So what is Trengove’s verdict on Chappell’s claim?
“I’m going to say physically a marathon runner, but mentally a cricketer,” she said.
“In that, a fast bowler has to execute every ball perfectly and they have to maintain intense concentration for every single ball they bowl.
“Whereas in a marathon there’s a little bit more room for making mistakes and then making up for them by pulling a smart move later in the race, so we’ve got a little more wiggle room.
“But I think physically there’s a fair bit of stress that gets placed on the body in the preparation for a marathon runner and the race itself.”
What the specialist says
Who: Jane Fitzpatrick
Credentials: Associate Professor at Melbourne University and a specialist sports and exercise medicine physician. Currently the team physician for the Australian cross country ski team and the medical director for the Australian biathlon team.
To start, there is actually some relatively new data we can use to compare the two sports, courtesy of a 2018 paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers took issue with an American rating system that found cricket was a low-cardio sport on par with yoga, lawn bowls or golf, and so they collated the GPS data on just how much ground the average bowler covers.
They found a fast bowler in a one-day international match covered, on average, 10.1km over the day.
If you imagine the Aussies in England spend as much time bowling as batting over a five-day Test, then they could actually get in the ballpark of a 42km marathon distance.
Mitchell Starc is poised to play his first Ashes Test of this series, in Manchester. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
But it’s not so simple, says Associate Professor Fitzpatrick.
“They’re actually running quite fast, and they’re expending quite a bit of energy over a tiny amount of time. Then they stop and regroup,” she said.
“The important difference is it’s all stop-start activity. So there’s never any continuous activity.
“There’s no possibility that you could correlate them with marathon runners who are running long, slow distances in relative terms and much more mileage.
“But you could correlate them quite well with a high-level soccer player.”
Then there are the injury differences.
Associate Professor Fitzpatrick said the research showed the most common injuries for bowlers were to hamstrings and quadriceps, as well as lower back pain. If you wanted to compare this to a runner you would be looking at sprinters, not marathon runners.
Scotland’s Callum Hawkins collapsed in the 2018 Commonwealth Games marathon final. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy)
So what is her verdict on Chappell’s claim?
“Way off,” she said.
“It might be interesting to reflect though that what he’s trying to say is maybe [cricketers] a bit fitter than people give them credit for … that often people think they’re doing nothing more than your 80-year-old down at the St Kilda bowls club.
“Clearly, that’s wrong and their classification is somewhat similar to the rugby player or soccer player.
“But not the same kind of endurance-based fitness as a marathon runner.”