Stuart Broad and James Anderson, forever, have been shouldering the pace attack’s responsibilities of England. The likes of Steven Finn, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Toby Roland Jones and a few more fast bowlers have been the third pacer along with the two legends but have never managed to stick around for a long time. While a few were dropped because their form faded, the rest suffered injuries and then struggled to make a comeback after that. Speaking about injuries, fast bowlers are the most injury-prone species in cricket. Due to the repetitive nature of bowling, especially in the five-day format, bowling injuries tend to be overuse (syndrome) and keep striking the bowler often gradually over the time.
At the end of the second Test between England and South Africa, earlier this year, in London; England suddenly had a contender who could take the place of the regular third pacer in the Test side. The 29-year-old Middlesex’s Toby Roland Jones, clinched an incredible five-for on debut as he finished with figures of 8 for 129 and down the order, scored crucial 25 in the first innings (including four fours and one six) and 23 not out (two sixes) in the second innings.
Although in the fourth Test, he picked only two wickets, his first wicket of the Test was Hashim Amla and it was for the third consecutive innings, Toby had dismissed the veteran that series. It was surely a huge achievement for a cricketer, who was just two-Test old. Keeping in mind, that he finished as the fourth highest wicket-taker in County Championship in 2016-17 season with 54 scalps in 15 matches for Middlesex and he has already notched up 28 wickets in nine matches this season so far, Toby, certainly, had enhanced his reputation as a support seamer and seemed like a future prospect to complete the pace attack with the duo of Anderson and Broad.
Toby’s dream debut to a heartbreak injury
Toby’s inclusion in the side turned out to be a perfect timing as there were only a few months left for the Ashes to begin in Australia. And who knows better than England the importance of having at least three fine pacers on the fast and bouncy Australian tracks. However, Toby and England have suffered a major blow when the Ashes is just nine weeks away. The fast bowler has been diagnosed with a stress fracture to his lower back just a few days before the announcement of England’s Ashes squad. When the squad will be declared Wednesday morning, Toby, whose accuracy and bounce had his presence in the Australian summer certain, will not be a part of it.
Despite nearing his 30s, Toby still has the required pace and accuracy and this was his golden opportunity to fulfil his Ashes dream. With the fast bowlers, future is never assured. Not all the fast bowlers are gifted with the right built to be a pacer and hence the players, constantly, need to to keep adapting and customising their training to avoid injuries. It is fair to say, once the injuries begin, particularly towards the early 30s, it is difficult for the bowler to regain the same structure.
Stress fractures are common with the pacers and they occur when there is excessive game time and less recovery time. When a player, be it batsman or a bowler is performing well, he would not want to break the momentum and hence goes on to play non-stop. During this, fast bowlers are most affected, mostly in four or five-day format of cricket. Although Toby has played only nine First-Class matches so far, his tight schedule between domestic and international cricket did take a toll on his body. Toby was just unlucky as he suffered the injury with only a week left in the County Championship.
“Load is the major factor in cricket”
A sports physiotherapist with the BCCI has also suggested that load is one of the major factors in cricket and one of the primary reasons behind injuries like stress factors – “From the under age Cricket, domestic circuit to the international level, our bowlers don’t know how much training or bowling they have done. Majority of the time, the bowlers bowl more than they should ideally bowl. It’s not just in India, but this issue prevails across the globe. People tend to struggle with the load management and calculation.”
Once Dale Steyn had said that fast bowling is not a natural thing; sometimes injuries just happen and that’s how is the life of a fast bowler is. What matters is how you come back and what you do when you are injury-free on the field. While the likes of Zaheer Khan and Shoaib Akhtar fought against their injury-plagued careers to claim the tag of the best of their times, there were names such as Shane Bond who succumbed to the poor body. The Australian pacer Mitchell Starc is the example of an injury-prone bowler in the recent times but every time the Aussie returns with his pace even better.
Even though Toby’s stress fracture is not very severe but even a regular stress has a typical recovery time of at least six to 12 weeks and since the first Ashes Test in Gabba is set to begin in nine weeks, Toby’s miss out looks obvious. With Anderson, Broad and Woakes fit and available for the selection, they will be England’s front-line seamers and for the backup spot, England might choose between Toby’s County teammate Steven Finn and 26-year-old Jake Ball. They are already struggling to find an opening partner for Alastair Cook, Toby’s sudden injury has only increased the panic situation in the English camp.