Brett Lee’s withdrawal from the second ODI due to an elbow injury throws up a question — just how much is too much for cricketers? The annual calendar for top international sides is already congested and with new T20 competitions coming into it, the stars of the game are in heavy demand.
Lee is a classic example. Not the fittest of fast bowlers even at his peak, the 32-year-old played six of the seven matches in the ODI series against England which got over on September 20. He flew to South Africa for Australia’s first match in the Champions Trophy which took place on September 26 and played till the final on October 5.
Given that the series against India started on October 25, Lee should have got sufficient rest. But then, there was this Champions League T20 featuring his team and eventual winners New South Wales. He played all seven matches - the first one on October 9 and the last one on October 23. The first ODI against India happened in less than 48 hours.
Considering the workload a fast bowler like him shoulders and the amount of travelling through different time zones, it would have been a miracle of sorts had he not broken down. The alarming point is, Lee may not be the only man who would be subjected to this torturous schedule.
“It’s a situation we grapple with everyday,” said Australia coach Tim Nielsen when asked whether it was time international teams started monitoring just how much of non-ICC T20 competitions their players are playing.
“Brett’s played six one-dayers in England, five in the Champions Trophy and then played the Champions League. It’s no surprise that he’s got a stress-related injury.”
“We need to be careful and prioritise what’s best for these players so that their long-term future is safe.”
“ But having said that, when it comes to the Champions League and the IPL, we do need the best players as it is good for the product. It’s a balancing act that we have to do.”
Nielsen said they keep an eye on the bowlers’ workload. “We are monitoring the number of balls they bowl at the nets everyday to see how they are doing mentally, physically and technically. Once we get to a stage when we feel that the injury risk is big, we talk to them about the need to rest.”
Sounds good, but this has not worked in Lee’s case at least. There is no reason to hope that he is the last player who will let his country down in a crucial bilateral series due to an overdose of the kind of cricket which matters only in terms of money and little by way of cricketing seriousness.