The Australian cricket team were ready to go straight off the bat for this year’s Ashes series, according to the team’s Senior physiotherapist, Alex Kontouris, who spoke to Neos Kosmos on the eve of the Ashes, two Wednesdays ago.
“We’ve all had a few days together now, they’ve all been playing for the states for the last couple of weeks, everyone’s ready to go,” Kontouris says.
Vice-captain Michael Clarke is the only player currently battling injury, Kontouris said.
“He’s had a back injury, he injured his back playing for NSW a few weeks or so ago, and has a worn out disc that flared up unfortunately at the wrong time,” he says. “He’s just been recovering from that, now we just hope we’ve timed our run correctly.”
Treating athletes with injuries varies from person to person, Kontouris says.
“You can alter the way that disc mechanics work, so you do movements and exercises that sort of helps, and hopefully you can manoeuvre how the disc mechanics work and that helps speed up the process of recovery,” he says.
More importantly it’s about avoiding injury, Kontouris says. “We want to stop the players from getting hurt, you don’t allow them into positions that aggravate, you work on their muscles to either strengthen or relax them depending on what they’re doing”.
As a sport, cricket encounters the same amount of injuries as any other major sport, like AFL or soccer, Kontouris says.
“We have different types of injuries, whereas an AFL footballer might have collision injuries where they collide with players, we don’t get those,” he says, adding “we do get a lot of back injuries because players, batsman specifically, are involved in lots of bending and twisting for long periods of time.”
Distribution of types of injuries change from sport to sport, Kontouris says.
“In cricket we have some unique injuries; our bowlers get stress fractures, that’s a common injury in their longer spine, and that’s an injury that’s fairly uncommon in sports like football or rugby, but it’s common in cricket, gymnastics, tennis,” he says.
Kontouris, alongside another physio based in Brisbane, works with 25 players contracted to Cricket Australia, and one or two other players earmarked by the national selectors as potential candidates to play for Australia.
“We keep an eye on every individual player and make sure they’re available for selection; that’s our job,” he says. “I’m the senior physio, so I look after the players who are going to be most likely to play for Australia in this test match, so once the squad’s selected, which was a couple of weeks ago I concentrate on those 15-17 players”.
This involves tracking all the players’ movements, training and any niggling injuries the players may have to ensure they are all available to play.
“That happens by liasing with the state physios and coaches and making sure they’re doing the things that we all agree are best for the player,” Kontouris says. This can involve interstate travel to visit players with dubious or more difficult injuries.
“It’s whatever needs to be done to get the players on the park at the right time, peaking at the right time,” he says.
Kontouris has been a physiotherapist with Cricket Australia since 2003, starting on a part-time basis and then graduating to senior physio in 2006. Prior to this, from 1996 until 2003, Kontouris worked with the Sri Lankan cricket team.
“I worked with the Sri Lankan cricket team when they came to Australia for one tour and that one tour became seven and a half years,” he says. “I lived and worked over in Sri Lanka; it was a fantastic, great experience.” Kontouris says he has a permanent link to Sri Lanka as it’s not only where he learnt his trade but also where he met his wife. “We go back there whenever we get the chance, I’ve got friends there; it’s just a great place,” he says.
The Melburnian, who was born in Cyprus and migrated to Australia in 1974, attended Sunshine West high school, and later studied physio at Latrobe University, a course he initially enrolled in “because a mate of mine wanted to do it as well and at that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do”.
With a background in playing soccer, Kontouris says he always loved sports, and after studying physio he realised it was a great profession.
In his early career Kontouris worked with the Victorian Institute of Sport, Victorian soccer team and sports medicine practices before the opportunity to work in the cricket industry presented itself.
Kontouris currently teaches as part of Latrobe University’s Masters program, and is completing his PhD on cricket injuries and stress fractures.