Toby Roland-Jones has joined the ECB’s Pace Programme for the next few weeks as he continues the long road back from the injury that shattered his Ashes dreams.
The 29-year-old Middlesex stalwart was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back during a late-season county game against Lancashire, a cruel blow to England and especially to Roland-Jones, who had taken to international cricket so impressively with 17 wickets in his first four Test appearances.
But after returning to bowling with Middlesex last week, he linked up this week with the other seven seamers on the Pace Programme – including Reece Topley, Jamie Overton and Jamie Porter – at the ECB’s Performance Centre in Loughborough, ahead of a training camp in Desert Springs in Spain early next month.
“It’s great to see Toby on the road back, and for us to be able to offer him the chance to do plenty of bowling outdoors and other specific training this winter,” said Kevin Shine, the ECB’s fast-bowling lead who heads up the Pace Programme.
“He’s completed six bowling sessions with Middlesex, and he’s been with us at Loughborough for three days this week.
“He will be coming with us when we head off for our first short camp in Desert Springs on 10 December, and after that we’ll reassess his progress. But we have further Pace Programme camps in the New Year in Potchefstroom in South Africa and then back at Desert Springs, and then there’s the possibility of the Lions tour of West Indies in February and March as another staging post for Toby before England play a couple of Tests in New Zealand in April.”
Roland-Jones will be joined on the Pace Programme by Ben Langley, the ECB’s national physiotherapist lead, and Rob Ahmun, the Welshman who recently rejoined the ECB as strength and conditioning lead after spending the 2017 season with Surrey.
Topley and Overton are also on the comeback trail after recurrent back injuries, while Porter suffered similar frustration to Roland-Jones when he was denied a trip to Australia this autumn with England Lions because scans detected a partial stress fracture in his lower back.
Overton, whose twin brother Craig is on the Ashes tour, has not played since an impressive performance for the Lions against South Africa A in June, with Somerset resisting the temptation to recall him late in the 2017 season and instead taking a long-term view after the latest instance of the back trouble the 23-year-old has suffered in the early stages of his career.
Topley, who has made 16 white-ball appearances for England but is still only 23 himself, suffered the latest of several blows in August when he was again diagnosed with a stress fracture – for the fourth time in his career.
“They’re all bowling again now, which is great to see after the disappointments they’ve had to endure,” added Shine.
“Unfortunately, fast bowling is always going to be a brutal business, as these lads can all confirm.
“That’s one of the reasons we have the Pace Programme – the aim is to reinforce the physical and technical foundations required for international fast bowling. In the 10 or 12 years since we started it, the programme has evolved to develop the athleticism of our talented bowlers.
“There’s been a growing focus on things like running technique, movement patterns, mobility, co-ordination and agility. And of course we also work on the craft and skills of fast bowling, as well as the technical areas surrounding pace.
“This year the guys have been able to do more bowling before Christmas, on the back of some new research suggesting a complete shut down from bowling for long periods of time increases injury risk.
“Also, we want to ensure that their bodies adapt to bowling after they have trained. So after a heavy training session, they bowl – this tells their bodies that these are the movement patterns they are training for.
“We’ve got a great balance this winter. There’s a quartet of lads with experience in Reece Topley, Jamie Overton, Jamie Porter and now Toby, who was first with us on the Programme as a young lad six or seven years ago. They’ve got so much to share with the younger guys – Tom Barber, Zak Chappell, George Scrimshaw and Paul Walter – which all goes to show the quality and strength in depth we have in our fast-bowling ranks.
“The lads have been working hard in Loughborough and with their counties, and the chance to get outside and hopefully a bit of sun on our backs at Desert Springs will come at just the right time.”