Crazy about baseball? Try cricket

The Cricket World Cup is approaching and will be held in Australia and New Zealand.

Doctor's note: This week, I'm handing over the column to Dr. Irfan Sheikh, an orthopedic surgeon and former research and sports medicine fellow at The Stone Research Foundation. While he was with us last summer, Irfan never lost an opportunity to fill us in on the latest cricket scores. This enthusiasm for the game was infectious. With the final of the Cricket World Cup around the corner, here he is with a heartfelt introduction to the sport.

Greetings from India, where the entire nation is currently swept up in a sporting event you may barely be aware of: The Cricket World Cup, jointly hosted this time by Australia and New Zealand. Since the final of this major sporting event will be held at the end of the month, and in the spirit of the challenge set by Dr. Kevin R. Stone, of taking up a new sport every six months, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to try cricket.

Cricket, as a team sport, is an English import to India and other commonwealth nations, a relic of the British Raj that has captivated India for more than a century. At first, cricket was restricted to the royal realms of the British administration and the maharajahs. Then slowly, it became a status determinant, much to the delight of the aristocracy in India. It particularly flowered in the western part of India, present day Mumbai. And quite fittingly the greatest player to ever adorn cricket gear, Sachin Tendulkar, comes from this part of the country. Cricket is considered a religion here in India and Sachin Tendulkar is an unworshipped god of cricket.

Cricket is not just about brute force and a display of skill. It's also about mental fortitude and gamesmanship. Since cricket is a team game, it warrants a spirit of leadership and camaraderie. Temperament and tenacity are the dominant themes in this game of bat and ball.

Originally, the format stretched for five days, quite befitting the name “test cricket.” But over the years, the game has seen a radical transformation in the form of one-day cricket and the Twenty20 format. Though the skill and talent required has not been diluted, it is fair to say that the game has witnessed an influx of burly men, big bats and athleticism. It is played roughly like baseball, but on a circular field of 450 feet to 500 feet radius with a 22-yard central strip, where most of the action takes place, called a pitch, which has two bases called wickets consisting of three standing sticks with bails on each side.

The game consists of two teams of 11 players each. Pitchers are called bowlers and the hitters are called batsman. The ball is pitched with running overarm action in a variety of ways, with some great bowlers pitching at more than 100 miles an hour or spinning the ball in using different techniques. Batsmen have many ways of scoring all around the wicket. A hit, similar to a home run in baseball, is counted as six runs. At first, it may seem difficult to understand the game, with so many rules, but once you get the hang of it, it is fun to play and follow.

The beauty of the game lies in its innate features, which test a player's mental and physical faculties. However, like any sport, it comes with its fair share of injuries. These are the cricket injuries that, as orthopedists, we tend to treat:

1. Tennis elbow, which can be treated with physical therapy and platelet-rich plasma (growth-factor injections). We now avoid cortisone, which weakens the tissues.

2. Low-back pain due to bowling and fielding injuries, also treated with physical therapy focusing on abdominal, trunk and gluteal muscles used in rotation and bending.

3. Hamstring injuries, mostly due to playing in squatting positions for long hours with fast bowling motions, also treated with physical therapy and muscle strengthening. Tears can be stimulated to heal with growth-factor injections.

4. Shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tears because of repeated overhead bowling and throwing the ball, treated first with rehabilitation exercises and growth factors, however if torn completely they need to be repaired arthroscopically.

5. Elbow and wrist injuries from batting.

6. Finger joint injuries while catching the ball and fielding.

7. ACL and meniscus injuries sustained while running, pivoting and twisting.  The tissues are reconstructed with the patient's own tissue or if they travel to the U.S. to see Dr. Stone, with allograft donor tissues. Pig tissues, recently approved in Europe, may soon come to India as well.

Despite the sport being a colonial legacy and faced with onslaught of a postmodern society, cricket has remained a gentleman's game, played in the true spirit of the game itself. The injuries match those of other sports but the athletes, when treated well, return from injury to enjoy long careers.

So, try to catch the last few weeks of the Cricket World Cup, and join millions of others around the world. According to the BBC, an early match between India and Pakistan (India won by 76 runs) drew in excess of 1 billion television viewers, making it the most watched sporting event in history.

Why not find out what all the fuss is about?

Dr. Irfan Sheikh is an orthopedic surgeon based in India and former research and sports medicine fellow at The Stone Clinic and Stone Research Foundation.

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