I never thought I'd pose this question: is the Australian women's team playing too much cricket?
They are the walking wounded ahead of Thursday night's Twenty20 World Cup semi-final against South Africa at the SCG. Ellyse Perry has been ruled out of the tournament after sustaining a serious hamstring injury in the field against New Zealand that will keep her out of competitive cricket for some time.
Ellyse Perry has been ruled out of the rest of the World CUp and beyond with a hamstring injury.Credit:AAP
Perry's isn't the first injury and it may not be the last. The first player to go down was the exciting young fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck, who was ruled out on the eve of the tournament with a stress fracture in her right foot. There's no doubt the injury unsettled the side before their opening loss to India, and robbed the Australians of their "X-factor".
Then there is Sophie Molineux, who has a corked thigh. While she can complete training from a skills point of view, she still has trouble running. It's not that long ago that captain Meg Lanning missed a game of the tri-series because of an ongoing lower back issue.
Finally, Erin Burns was selected in the Australian squad after having a cleanout of her knee early in the new year, from which she has taken some time to recover. More concerning is that Burns' most recent competitive cricket match was in late December.
The decision not to replace Perry in the squad means Australia are down to 14 players. Then take into consideration that Burns hasn't played a game of cricket in two months, and the questions around Molineux's fitness. The worst-case scenario is that there will be 12 players Australia can choose from. Let's hope Lanning hasn't stiffened up after the match against New Zealand, and that no one else gets hurt at training, or the selectors will have to pick from who's left standing.
Which brings us back to the original question: has the increasing professionalism of the women's game, and the rise in the number of series, actually brought us to the point where the Australians are playing too much cricket? Looking at their recent schedule, I'm not surprised to see so many injuries, or some players struggling with burnout.
Since June last year the team has been on the go, playing more cricket than ever before. Here is a quick snapshot of the players' workloads, not including camps, travel time, warm-up matches, or state and club cricket training. Nor does it include, for the high-profile players, the extra media and commercial commitments.
There haven't been many breaks, and the Australians are now building towards potentially the biggest match of their careers.
The 'R' word – rotation – is frowned upon in this country. But the 'F' word – flexibility – might need to be introduced to look after the players and ensure the Australian team can keep performing at its best. In the era of professionalism, it will take time for players' bodies to adapt to the extra training and playing loads. Unlike the Australian men's team, which plays three different formats, the women's side plays predominantly white-ball cricket, so the players tend to play both ODI and Twenty20 cricket. Another difference is that there are more all-rounders in the women's game, which adds to the stresses on their bodies.
Because of this, the data sports scientists have used to track workloads may need to be adjusted for the women's game, with players and coaching staff learning how to perform at their best, and more importantly how to physically and mentally survive this new era.
Australia have always boasted depth, due to a strong domestic structure. That will be tested on Thursday, as they will have to dig deep into those reservoirs to get through the semi-final, and ensure they are around to see at least see one Perry (Katy) performing at the MCG on Sunday.
Lisa Sthalekar is a former Australian all-rounder and World Cup winner
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