I used to play cricket with a bodybuilder. He was a huge guy with muscles like Volkswagen Beatles trying to park. He was a good club batsman and accurate medium pace bowler too. Could he have been better if he spent less time in the gym and more time in the nets?
The idea that muscles are bad for cricket is certainly a common belief in the cricket world from school to professional level. Although our friend above would disagree. The truth is a little more nuanced than just saying "yes" or "no". So let's explore the influence of muscle mass on cricket performance in a little more detail.
Strength or size?
Few people disagree that strength is important in cricket. Strong players bowl faster, hit harder and get less injuries. That's a measurable fact. What is less agreed is the relationship between the muscle size and strength.
We tend to assume the bigger the muscle, the stronger it must be. There is certainly a relationship between size and strength, but it's not 1:1. You can get stronger without increasing muscle size at the same rate. You can also get larger muscles with a much smaller gain in strength. The first is ideal for cricket, the second is more suited to bodybuilding.
So, while strong is good, is size less good?
There is evidence that over large muscles can cause issues. For example, if you have large biceps, the muscle can get so big it impinges into the shoulder, which can contribute to pain and reduced mobility. It's not a sure thing but it is a real possibility.
The general point here is clear: get strong, but do it in ways that focus on maximum strength and power while minimising muscle gain. You will get some increase in pure muscle size no matter what you do, but when you combine this with reductions in excess body fat you will likely not see much of an overall gain in weight.
Size and mobility
Another common criticism of muscle size is that it reduces your mobility and flexibility, and prevents you from getting into good positions for batting and bowling. How true is this?
It's certainly right to say that if you get very big - professional bodybuilder big - you can see a relative reduction in joint mobility. That's not good for cricket, and in fact I have seen this first hand. Our bodybuilder friend above once spent a winter getting huge. He was almost comically large. When he came to bowl in the first preseason net he kept bowling wides. He claimed that he had got so large he could no longer get his arm high enough!
Here's the thing; you have to make a concerted effort to get that big. It doesn't happen by accident, and so if cricket is your priority you will never get to that point.
I would also add that anyone can get stuff if they train in poor ways. You need to stretch and mobilise joints whether you have big or small muscles. Equally, big and small muscle is capable of being made more flexible and mobile around the joint.
So, the take home point is that you need to mobilise with a good warm up no matter who you are, and that only comically large body builders have an excuse.
Overall, for me, it boils down to time.
We all have limited time, and if you have a choice between doing bicep curls in the gym, or having a net then the net will always win for those with a cricket priority. That in itself will prevent the "too big for cricket" problem in its tracks.
Then, when you do have time for the gym - and you absolutely should - then you can focus on pure strength and speed/power so as not to worry about excess gains. You will reap the benefits with none of the costs.