There were two slightly different approaches to the pre match warm up at Twickenham on Saturday. Both enabled the England and New Zealand teams to start the game at an intensity approaching maximum, but there were subtle differences that, for me, showed where England’s lack of sponteneity comes from.
New Zealand were out on the pitch a good 50 minutes before kick off. Players were in charge of their own warm up including all the usual suspects of raising core temp and blood flow, activation and mobilisation of muscle groups and some potentiation. After this, a team decision-making drill through a few rows of shields and a team defensive drill. Then back in for final prep.
England came flying out en masse, a few had been out for a little while doing their own thing beforehand, about 35 minutes prior to kick off. A couple of basic handling drills then splitting into forwards and backs for some dynamic stretching, all prescribed. The forwards went through some wrestling bits before getting in some lineouts while the backs went into some 3 on 2 drills.
The main difference I picked between the two were that England didn’t have to think for themselves, they were told what to do at every stage. If this is representative of the national setup and those at premiership clubs then I think England fans may have a long wait until they celebrate success again. I have heard talk of premiership players planning moves for six phases of play, how can that possibly work? What happens if a space opens up, will a player be accused of going “off plan” if they attack it? Will they even notice the space is there? This type of planning takes out a player’s reactive ability, it doesn’t develop decision makers, it develops robots.
I don’t know if it’s part of a directive put out by the International Cricket Council in order to make test cricket more interesting or if the strength and conditioning coaches of the test playing nations all read the same book, but there must some reason behind it. A common site on the morning of a test match is the site of players from both sides undertaking their warm ups, which usually include some mobility exercises, fielding drills, some batting, some bowling…..and a game of football, rugby or australian rules football. Now, it’s that last part that I have issues with. I’m all for using some cross over training with teams and squads to benefit movement skills, coordination or reactive ability during match performance. It can also break up the monotony of training. The question I would ask is where the benefit is of playing a game of football on the morning of a test match, particularly in arguably the most intense test series around?
For one, I don’t see where the transfer of skills to cricket is apart from maybe playing in goal where reactions/catching are tested, please feel free to enlighten me. At least australian rules and rugby have a large catching element to it and may aid hand eye coordination. Instead, with the England team we have a group of athletes partaking in a game they are not conditioned for, that can include some very stressful multiplanar movements and has the added risk of injury through trauma. How about a dead leg to your opening bowler during an innocuous tackle? An accidental trip and a broken wrist for a key batsman? All possible, especially when you add in the fact that all participants are professional sportsmen who are, by their very nature, incredibly competitive.
I recognize that a warm up for a cricket match isn’t easy to design, particularly given it generally occurs before the toss and you don’t know if the majority of the players will even get onto the pitch during the day’s play. On match day however, my preference would be to keep the mind on cricket and maybe to look at using drills that are very cricket specific and involve a progressive intensity, particularly on the reactive and psychological focus side which would benefit both batsmen and fielders and not be dependent upon the toss. Once the toss is won, players go through their pre-match psych routines, bowlers a slightly more movement specific set of patterns and we’re off.
Matt Prior may or may not have been injured as a result of the warm up game, but either way it’s then a lot to weigh upon the mind of your Andrew Strauss. He then has to contemplate Paul Collingwood as wicket keeper and approach Ricky Ponting to ask about delaying the toss and allow a call up of a replacement keeper from a county game. He then misses his warm up and mental preparations, the rest of the team don’t even know who’s playing (imagine what’s going through Paul Collingwood’s mind) and the dressing room and surrounding areas appear more akin to the deck of the Titanic than cricket changing room. The players can’t help but be distracted by these external goings on and their mental preparation is disrupted. Throw that on top of a fire alarm and the whole team outside the hotel at 0430 and you have some of the worst preparation imaginable. 102 all out seems about right after all that.