In a cricket-crazy nation such as ours, we often gear up to see the gods and demi-gods of the cricketing world battle it out on the field. And, though we love watching them thrash the ball to the boundary and knock the stumps off, we reach a low when one of them sustains an injury and is unable to play.

Worse still, we are thrown in a fix when someone at home who plays the game is forced to sit out due to an injury. So, what are cricket-related injuries all about?

Cricket has come a long way from ‘kreckett', as children played it during the 16th Century with a curved stick and a ball made of wool, in the fields of southeast England. Today, it is a sophisticated game enjoyed by millions across the world. The nature of the game too has evolved — from a leisurely gentleman's pursuit to a fast one played with fervour.

Cricket has become a game of endurance, strength, flexibility and agility. While all players need fast reactions and endurance to last the course of the match, the specialists require specific attributes. Batsmen need excellent hand-eye coordination and the ability to make rapid decisions. Pace bowlers, on the other hand, need good aerobic fitness and power to deliver the ball at the required speeds. Good fielders, in particular, have to be agile and have a strong and an accurate throw, while wicket keepers need to be extremely quick on their feet with good reaction times.

As in any sport, a training programme for cricketers should be geared towards improving performance and protecting them from injuries. A good training programme should involve a warm-up, sport-specific conditioning, skills practice, team practice and a cool down. Players are likely to benefit from interval training, where the player can intersperse rest periods in between bouts of sprinting and running, in keeping with the nature of the game. Strength training in the gymnasium should also be an essential part of the training.

Injuries

Sports injuries can be classified as those occurring due to direct trauma or due to overuse. Though any player can sustain any type of injury, the specialists can be prone to particular injuries.

Bowling

Bowlers seem to sustain the most injuries, followed by fielders and batsmen, in that order.

Injuries of the lower limbs seem to be most common. Fast bowlers can sustain acute injuries such as muscle strains (quadriceps and hamstrings), ankle and knee injuries.

Repeated running can lead to shin pain, tendonitis, muscle tears and stress fractures.

Poor bowling technique, especially during fast bowling, can pre-dispose the players to overuse problems in the spine such as spondylosis, disc degeneration and facet joint arthropathy (wear and tear).

Spin bowlers can develop splitting of their skin on their fingers, due to repeated movement over the seam and can also develop arthritis of their finger joints.

Batting

Batsmen can sustain concussions (head Injury), broken fingers and cracked ribs from the direct impact of a ball. They can also injure their rotator cuff (shoulder muscles), whilst trying to swing a ball away, and suffer tendinosis (tendon degeneration) at the elbow, also known as tennis elbow !

Fielding

Fielders can sustain injuries to their knees such as meniscal tears and anterior cruciate ligament injuries, and shoulder injuries such as instability, impingement and rotator cuff tears due to repeated throwing. Any impact on the boundary fence and improper technique when employing a ‘sliding stop' of the ball, are some of the causes for injury. Repeated squatting can cause knee problems in a wicket keeper, apart from the fact that he is prone to being directly struck by a ball.

Treatment

When cricketers sustain an injury, immediate first aid should be available, and if appropriate, they should be seen by a medical team proficient in the management of sports injuries, to aid them in recovery and to help them play again. The goal should be to get the sportsperson back to playing the sport as soon as possible.

There are various options available to the sports doctor, depending on the type of injury. These range from simple options such as painkillers and physiotherapy to electrotherapeutic modalities and specific rehabilitation techniques. Sometimes, it may be necessary to resort to a surgical option to repair or reconstruct an injured tendon or ligament.

A lot of children take up cricket these days, and young (children) bowlers are particularly prone to injuries. So, it is important to restrict the number of overs they bowl in a day. Careful attention should be paid to their bowling and fielding techniques. During the game, players should keep themselves well hydrated, and wear appropriate protective gear to protect themselves from direct injuries.

(The writer is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, with an interest in Sports Medicine and Arthroscopic Surgery).