Two lessons from the world of cricket caught my eye. The first discusses whether the fastest cricket ball ever bowled has already been thrown. The second is about the world’s best living batsman.
In sport we tend to expect relentless improvement. Faster, higher, stronger. So the running records fall and the jumping records stretch as techniques are enhanced, training is intensified and superior science is applied. But Glenn Fleisig, the research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, has said this week that baseball pitchers are now operating at their absolute physical limit and that no one should expect to far outstrip what is currently the quickest pitch, the 105.1mph fastball thrown by the Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman in 2010.
The same is true, Fleisig says, in cricket. The likelihood is that the fastest ball that will ever be bowled has already been delivered. Which will please Shoaib Akhtar, listed as the quickest by the Guinness Book of Records, if not the Wisden Almanack, which refuses to record such vulgar things.
And of course in rowing we’ve seen similar gains in world record times. Unlike other sports, we do not have a wind limit for records and so a breezy tail wind at Luzern last year enabled a clutch of new world best times.
But are records good for rowing?
Sure it’s fun to discuss who would / could have been the fastest crew, but with athletes training every more intensely and injuries plaguing careers, is there a limit to the training capacity of elite athletes and hence, their world best time ability? Back to the Guardian,
[A] mindset has been passed down by coaches, who see the perfect action as being the one that bears the most repetition while minimising the risk of injury and maximising the degree of control. As Brearley says, Test cricket is poorer for it, stripped as it is of the physical threat to the batsman and robbed of one its most exciting elements. But bowlers have longer careers as a consequence. Fans and players love to argue about who was the fastest.
The Best Rower of all time?
Another favourite bar-stool discussion is who is the greatest athlete of their age. Again, cricket has some fantastic insights from a soon-to-retire Indian, Tendulkar.
What keeps a professional at his sport longer than all others?
What drives them forward and how do they sustain their interest when they’ve already won everything and raced or played in all the best venues?
I take from this some lessons for the athlete pursuing their career as they age.
- Know your strengths and persuade the coach to let you use them. If you are a fabulous 7 man, go there and nowhere else. Make the seat your own.
- Continue to strive for the highest performances possible.
- If you aren’t enjoying it, quit. The pleasure in the process must become fulfilment enough as your strength and skills wane and younger players come up through the ranks.
- Remain professional at all times. Just because you are more experienced than others is no excuse to let your moral and ethical standards slip.
Read on to gain insight about Tendulkar from the Guardian [this makes me look like a cricket fan, I’m only a sideline-watcher, I promise!]
His hunger for the game has been incredible. He has continued playing into his 41st year, even though his mortality as a batsman is obvious to everyone.
Arguably – but we will not argue about this now – the best player after Sir Donald Bradman – whose wife, Jesse, famously saw echoes of her husband when watching Tendulkar at the crease – he was prepared to keep going even when the ICC Test rankings had him placed at No26.
Tendulkar, it seems, never tires of batting. The crease is where he is most at home, most at peace with the world. It is his habitat. He cannot be mobbed by the throngs there. As a consequence he takes precautions to ensure his stays in the middle last a long time. He rarely expended mental energy as a captain (he led India only 25 times in 198 Test appearances) and usually opts not to field in the slip cordon, which is where most of the greats with their enhanced hand/eye co-ordination have been stationed (although neither Bradman nor Geoff Boycott fielded there much).
He has dictated that he should bat at No4 – even when the upper order has been disrupted by injuries. Others have had to change their routine, not Tendulkar. Sometimes he appears to be playing the game in a vacuum but that is not his fault. He has never courted the adoration that has come his way. Yet whenever Tendulkar arrives at the crease in a home Test match the bike park is full and the crowd has eyes for no one else. They have come to the ground more to see him bat than witness a game unfolding. Somehow Tendulkar deals serenely with all this attention. For him, it is the norm.