Andy Roberts was a great fast bowler, but his opinion on training bowlers is harmful. Don't listen to him.
In a Cricinfo interview, Roberts spoke about how important it is for fast bowlers to be fit. Wise words. After that it all went downhill fast,
"You need to do a lot of running, because that's what you do on a cricket field - running."
Actually, you don't.
What you do most on a cricket field is stand still. There is a lot of waiting for something to happen in most matches. Next is walking with not much going on; the ball does not come to you, or moving between overs.
But let's give Roberts leeway and say he means that running is what you do most when you bowl. That is true, but it's also the least important part of bowling. The run up contributes about 10% of your pace. Your running fitness contributes 0% to your accuracy.
What does contribute to both pace and accuracy is strength and speed in your bowling action. Technique is the base, then build strength and speed on top of good positions and you are a better bowler. Evidence has shown that the stronger you are, the faster you are.
And Roberts begins his next piece of advice by saying exactly that: He just draws the wrong conclusions,
Fast bowling is in the legs. Running is the best way of doing it. You need strength in the body and you may go the gym, and do one or two things that can strengthen your legs, but nothing compares to actual running.
Running is not the best way to train as a bowler. Not by a long chalk.
Sprinting is a key element in any good training plan because it builds stronger legs and is close to bowling overs. Going to the gym and doing the right exercises in the right way is also crucial.
If you use running as your main source of fitness you will be weaker, slower and more prone to injury than guys who sprint and do performance training in the gym. That's proven, and no amount of Test wickets can change the facts.
Speaking of injury, that's where Roberts goes next,
"The modern-day coaches do not want their bowlers to bowl more than x number of balls in the practice sessions. If you check over the last 10-15 years, that is why there's been an amazing number of injuries to fast bowlers."
That's not why at all. There is a ream of evidence that shows the more balls bowled, the greater your risk of injury. That's why the ECB are so tough on fast bowling guidelines and the 7/4/2 system.
The reason there are more injuries is not that bowlers bowl less balls.
What are the reasons? We are not fully sure, but more sedentary living (sitting especially) in modern life has to contribute. Think how many hours a year a pro player spends sitting on planes and buses, or waiting in terminals and hotel rooms with only a phone or Xbox for company. I would argue early specialisation to cricket stops children becoming well rounded athletes. There is a fair chance that poorer diets also are in the mix.
Whatever it is, we can be sure it's not under-bowling.
"Cricket didn't start in 2000. It's been around for well over 100 years! So, there must be something wrong [in how the fast bowlers train]. People still actually bowl in the same way, nothing has changed there, so why don't [the coaches] try to emulate what was done in the past?"
Things have changed. The world is very different.
Children are weaker and less mobile and come into the game with glaring gaps in their athletic development. We are all more obsessed with sitting and playing with technology. Even bowling techniques have changed.
It's a new world and we know the old ways just don't work like they used to.
But he saves the biggest cliché to last,
"Everyone is sending bowlers to the gym. Yes, you need to be strong but it isn't strength that allows you to bowl fast. If it were, then, all the bulky muscular-looking people would be able to bowl fast, but they can't. You wonder why a guy who is 5'8" is able to bowl faster than a muscular guy of 240 pounds. Why? Because the 5'8" was born to bowl fast."
Please don't listen to this.
Let's ignore the fact that height and weight are different factors and assume we are talking about a slight bowler and a muscular one.
He's right that training to be a bodybuilder will hurt you game. But bodybuilders don't train to be strong, they train to be big. Size is not strength. You can be very strong and powerful without being "bulky". Most strong people are not bulky. To conflate the two is a classic error.
We have talked about it many times on PitchVision Academy.
So let's be 100% clear: Strength absolutely allows you to bowl fast.
To say the gym is bad because it makes bulky bowlers is not only wrong, it's harmful. It's stopping players being the best they can be because they listen to the words of a former great rather than the evidence of peer-reviewed science.
Andy Roberts took 200 Test wickets and has forgotten more about bowling than most of us will ever know. I am sure that running worked for him and the gym was not his thing. That was a different era and things have changed. He was just one man, albeit a very fine bowler.
We understand the body far more now than we did in 1979. And even if things had not changed much, you are not Andy Roberts, you are different. Don't listen to his advice on fitness if you want to be a fit, strong fast bowler.