You under-appreciate your feet.
During a hard game you can be on them hours at a time, working with your ankles and legs to keep you upright, balanced and performing to your best. Every step you run generates a force that is 2.5x your body weight through your foot. If you are a fast bowler the impact at the point of delivery jumps up to 9x.
They take a lot. Yet many players give only short consideration to the boots they wear.
It's time that changed.
What do you look for in a good cricket boot?
That is harder to answer than you might think. The reason for this is that there is a difference between what sport science thinks is best and what shoe manufacturers make.
The science of feet
The best way for our feet to function is barefoot. That may seem a surprise to those who have been brought up on the common knowledge of more cushioning and more support.
But people have been around a lot longer than trainers. We are designed by nature to be able to walk, run and sprint without shoes. Our feet have thick skin and a feedback system that works with the support muscles in our legs and hips to allow for heavy impacts and excellent balance.
Various studies have backed this up:
- Runners with old shoes are less likely to be injured than runners with newer shoes.
- The more cushioning in your shoe, the more likely the injury.
- The thicker and harder the sole of your shoe, the worse your balance becomes.
You can read about all these studies in a long article by Dr. Froncioni, an orthopedic surgeon (worth reading though).
On top of this, injury rates in fast bowlers continue to increase despite increases in cushioning and support in their shoes. I have also seen evidence with basketball players that the more support the shoe gives your ankle, the weaker and less flexible the ankle becomes.
Despite this evidence, walking into any shop that sells trainers or cricket boots shows you the opposite: More support and more cushioning.
Where does that leave our poor feet in all this?
It's a personal thing: Most of us can't play barefoot after years of conditioning our feet to be in shoes. We have to find a compromise. The more we can do to minimise the risk of injury with our footwear the better.
Cut is how high the boot goes up your ankle. With cricket shoes the two options are high cut bowling boots and shoe cut boots for batting and fielding.
Fast bowlers are the main users of bowling boots as they are designed to support the ankle. As we are not bowling in bare feet, the chance of slipping in medium cut boots and socks is higher, so this is sensible.
But we already know that this can reduce the range of motion of your ankle, another injury risk.
To overcome this, make sure you are warming up before and cooling down after play/training with 5 minutes of ankle mobility. Here is a great video that explains how.
Also a bit of gentle warming up in bare feet will work wonders. Just make sure the ground is safe from stones/glass/other stuff that hurts.
Unless you are a fast bowler, the spike in your boots is a matter of preference. There are 4 main options:
- Full spike
- Half spike (where the spikes are just at the front)
- Rubbers (with no spikes, just rubber moulded grips)
- Adjustable (can add or remove spikes and replace with rubber)
Fast bowlers need a full spike for the extra stability. Always wear them unless you are prevented from doing so by playing on artificial surfaces.
Other players can go with whatever option is most comfortable. The more spikes you have the more grip you have in the surface which is a double edged sword. On one hand you are less likely to slip and fall on the other hand you may get your foot caught in the ground and turn your ankle or knee.
Generally the softer the surface the more useful spikes become, the harder the surface the less you need them.
As we know, most cushioning is probably doing more harm than good. For this reason it's best to avoid manufacturer named cushioning technology like Gel and Air. A simple shoe with as thin a sole as possible is statistically superior: You are less likely to get injured.
If you do buy something with lots of cushioning try and 'break it in' before using it for a full game.
- Wear older boots, and break in new ones slowly.
- Go barefoot as often as you can in normal life.
- Consider wearing "barefoot", "minimal" or "zero drop" style training shoes in the gym or nets.
- Remember to mobilise your ankles in your warm ups.
- There is no one perfect shoe. Experiment until you find something comfortable for you.
In the future manufacturers may come up with something better for cricket. Shoes are already appearing.
Until then, experimentation and compromise are the only solution.