A Review of the 6th World Congress of Science and Medicine in Cricket 2019
Marc Portus – Praxis Performance Group
Stuart Cormack – Australian Catholic University
This year’s edition of the World Congress of Science and Medicine in Cricket was hosted at Loughborough University. This congress commenced in 1999 and aims to run with every Cricket World Cup (i.e. every 4 years). As the name suggests this was the sixth edition, with previous editions having been run in Sydney (2015), Chandigarh (2011), Barbados (2007), Stellenbosch (2003) and Lilleshall (1999). The next ICC Cricket World Cup will be held in India in 2023, so if all going well, it will be over to the Indians to provide a local venue and organising committee. The conference has historically been hosted around semi-finals time, allowing cricket loving delegates the opportunity to watch some world cup cricket as part of their travels.
Organisation and strategy
Generally, the congress is a nice concept and mirrors a similar format to that held for the football codes. However, one criticism over the years is that the congress has lacked significant meaningful input from the professional cricket community (e.g. full-member nations such as Cricket Australia, England & Wales Cricket Board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India), often resulting in two parallel universes operating, one being high performance cricket and the other those conducting research into cricket. One simple initiative would be to at least have one or two senior high performance staff members from the home country cricket board play an active and leading role on the local organising committee for each conference.
England did that this year with one ECB representative (Dr Nick Pierce) and hopefully this will grow for the India edition in 2023. The International Cricket Council (ICC) had some minor official involvement with the 2019 and 2003 editions, and hopefully the ICC will increase their engagement with the World Congress of Science and Medicine in Cricket in future editions. This would help create a nexus between global policies, research and practice, and help produce a global research agenda and better policy and player management outcomes for cricket (e.g. concussions, heat policy, helmet design, performance trends, common injury issues). Surely wins for all concerned. This is a notorious problem for most global sports, not just cricket, but organisations such as the International Olympic Committee have shown that a strong proactive approach towards science and medicine in their movement pays dividends.
This year it was great to see Richard Done from the ICC had coaches and support staff from their High Performance Program countries in attendance as part of their concurrently run HP Forum (i.e. Scotland, Namibia, UAE, USA, Oman, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and Hong Kong). This served as a useful professional development opportunity for them (declaration: both authors MP and SC were high performance consultants to the ICC and attended the conference and HP Forum in this role).
Loughborough University hosted the conference this year on their extensive campus, with the focus of activities at the Holywell Park Conference centre. This venue is nicely setup up for small to medium sized conferences and the local organising committee did an admirable job with the program and social events. The organising committee was headed up by Dr Mark King, whose been around the conference block once or twice these days, and he and his team did a nice job making sure everyone had plenty of entertaining, eating and drinking options at the 3 day event.
The program for the most part was a plenary style agenda, with a minor mix of parallel sessions on a couple of days. There were two keynotes, one from Dr Peter Brukner and a joint Keynote from Dr Paul Felton and Kevin Shine from the ECB. Both were well received. Peter entertained with his insightful journey through modern and old fashioned diets and how they fit into healthy lifestyles and cricketing performance. Delegates were then second guessing their meal choices for the rest of conference! The Felton and Shine keynote was notable for its hybrid scientific and coaching theme around fast bowling biomechanics, a formula not often executed well. The detailed biomechanical modelling provided multiple potential avenues to improving the ball speed of the fast bowler in the case study and the process adopted to apply these (from physical capacity to technical) in the field were elegantly demonstrated.
There were 4 invited presentations from researchers working in and around Cricket Australia medical and injury themes (Drs Saw, Orchard and Nicholls). Cricket Australia’s decision to employ a full-time research coordinator position is showing promise, so far at least in terms of research outputs. Three workshops were also delivered in fast bowling (Dr Rene Ferdinands), Strength & Conditioning (Rob Ahmun from the ECB) and a range of Emergency Care issues in Cricket (ECB medical staff). The rest of the program consisted of 15 minute presentations from researchers, practitioners and students from around the cricketing world.
Research content and quality
As with most sport science conferences the quality of research presented was variable. To some extent this should be expected as experienced stalwarts (e.g. Drs. Ferdinands, Orchard and Taliep) are masters of their craft and have presented in numerous editions of this conference. They set a standard higher than should be expected of a neophyte who is presenting for the first time. As a generalisation the Australian and English research seemed better connected to their governing cricketing body (e.g. Cricket Australia and ECB respectively) while research from other parts of the world seems to suffer from cricket bodies not being connected or involved. They don’t have to be of course, researchers and academics are perfectly entitled to pursue valid research questions on their own, however, from ‘this side of the fence’ there is a sense of lost opportunity and misalignment for both researchers and cricket authorities in parts of Africa, Asia and the West Indies. Cricket authorities in those parts of the world would be well served by having a targeted research agenda as part of their high performance strategies.
The recently completed PhD program of research by Dr Ben Jones from Bangor University, and supported by the ECB, was high quality research providing many insights into the developmental histories, ages of specialisation and pathway progressions of England’s ‘super elite’ (i.e. sustained international selection) v ‘elite’ cricketers. Sixteen years of age was the approximate time of specialisation in cricket for England’s current and recent batch of ‘super elite’ players. Worth bearing in mind when developing pathway programs for junior cricketers (i.e. they didn’t specialise at 12!).
A special mention also goes to Mike Harwood’s research (Loughborough University) assessing pitch length for under 11’s cricketers. It was a well-designed and presented piece of work assessing factors such as ball trajectories and reaction times on shorter pitches (the ‘magic’ number was a pitch length around 15m for those interested!). This pitch length recommendation supports other pitch length research conducted in Australia, focussed on skill involvement and development for juniors, which we believe remains unpublished. The vast majority of junior cricket in Australia is now played on reduced pitch lengths with modified rules, which as parents of keen young cricketers, we can both report as a positive development for batting and bowling skill development.
In addition to sessions dealing with skill performance, there were a range of presentations addressing aspects of the physical preparation of cricket players. It was fantastic to see a number of these presentations given by students who have conducted work as part of their research program, and this should continue to be encouraged. Topics ranged from workload and injury risks in South African fast bowlers (Professor Candice Christie, Rhodes University) to work examining the potential use of accelerometers to assess changes in movement strategy as a reflection of aerobic fitness during a standardised submaximal run test (Fabian Garcia-Byrne, University of South Australia). A presentation by Sibi Walter from the University of Canterbury examined the use of “Indian clubbell’s” to develop strength and range of motion in fast bowlers which was a training tool novel to much of the audience. Dr Will Vickery (La Trobe University, Australia) presented on the development of a fast bowling T20 match simulation which appears to be both valid and reliable and could be a useful tool for both researchers and practitioners. Another interesting presentation came from Dr Simon Feros (Deakin University, Australia) who examined the impact of warming up with a 10% heavier ball but found no significant increase in subsequent bowling speed. Despite the variety, and in some cases novelty of the work presented, future editions of the conference would benefit from an increased focus on the physical preparation of players. Sessions such as the one from Rob Ahmun (ECB National Lead S&C) where the application of scientific content is demonstrated are extremely valuable.
The conference is a good concept and is well timed with its concurrent running near semi-final time of each Cricket World Cup. In future editions we’d recommend that the local organising committee be equally represented by the host country’s researcher (i.e. academics, scientists, specialist practitioners) and high performance communities (e.g. national cricket organisation staff). We believe this will help both communities derive longer term mutual benefits – i.e. a research agenda that is informed by real world issues and a cricket community that derives more value from science and medicine research. This is much easier to write than do we realise, but we feel it will make a positive impact for the global growth, increased enjoyment and performance of cricket. Having the ICC and the host Cricket Board at each World Cup increasing their engagement with the agenda and direction of the conference would also be hugely beneficial to the game and its high performance, medicine and scientific stakeholders.
Dr Akshai Mansigh of the University of West Indies and the Cricket West Indies Board
I attended this conference and this article is a very good reflection of the conference. While research in Cricket has certainly expanded, most of it is restricted to the borders of their respective countries. I did get the sense that there is better quality research being done and it is a pity that many of the nations have not caught up. For the West Indies, this was the first time there was no presentation from our part of the world in many years. With our new Faculty of Sport in place at UWI, we are hoping to pursue cricket research in an organized manner. The future could include collaborative and comparative studies across different nations to derive more global results. In the interest of the game, and at the risk of the gap between the higher ranked teams and the lower ranked teams widening, active intervention by the ICC could facilitate the spread of knowledge and implementation of key findings.