Phil Hughes' blow a cruel example of game`s risks
Phillip Hughes` sickening injury was a stark reminder of the inherent dangers faced by batsmen confronting bowlers propelling a five-and-a-half ounce `missile` at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.
London: Phillip Hughes` sickening injury was a stark reminder of the inherent dangers faced by batsmen confronting bowlers propelling a five-and-a-half ounce `missile` at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.
Despite wearing a helmet, Australian left-hander Hughes was left in a critical condition after being hit on the base of the skull by a bouncer during a domestic game in Sydney.
The question of how batsmen should protect themselves from a blow on the head is not a new one.
Patsy Hendren, the Middlesex and England batsman, briefly wore a reinforced, multiple-peaked cap made for him by his wife in 1933 following England`s infamous `Bodyline` tour of Australia in 1932/33 that led to a spate of short-pitched bowling.
Hendren quickly abandoned his innovation and for more than 40 years batsmen made do with caps, sunhats or, as was usually the case, nothing at all on their heads.
The Laws of Cricket were adjusted to rule that repeatedly bowling short-pitched deliveries was "unfair", although it was down to the umpires to make an assessment of the "relative skill" of the batsmen, largely so that those that were good at hooking the bouncer were not denied the opportunity.
However, it was rare to see bowlers warned, much less withdrawn from the attack, for bowling an excessive number of bouncers.
The mid-1970s saw England`s Mike Brearley experiment with a protective skull-cap worn under the cap, with something similar worn later by India`s Sunil Gavaskar.
But the most notable change in headgear came during Kerry Packer`s `rebel` World Series Cricket in the late 1970s which attracted an exceptional crop of fast bowlers, including the West Indies` Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel, Michael Holding and Joel Garner.
With umpires seemingly reluctant to do anything about bouncer frequency, batsmen decided to treat their heads the same way they had long treated their legs and hands -- by covering them up.England`s Dennis Amiss, who had struggled against Australia`s celebrated fast-bowling duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson during the 1974/75 Ashes, was a pioneer of the batting helmet.
"I went to a motorcycle helmet manufacturer, and he came up with something lighter than the fibreglass motorcycle helmets around in those days and had a visor that could withstand a shotgun blast at 10 yards," Amiss told the Daily Telegraph.
"The problem was that it covered your ears, making it difficult to hear what your batting partner was saying, and we had a spate of run-outs."
Instead, the forerunner of the `cap`-design helmet worn by Hughes became commonplace, with plastic visors giving way to grilles, although, for a long time, many batsmen used helmets without any facial protection.
Former England captain Michael Atherton, an opening batsman, writing in Wednesday`s edition of The Times, said: "Maybe helmets had made us a little complacent, then. Certainly, they have changed the game beyond all recognition".
Atherton added that whereas in the pre-helmet era batsmen generally hooked cautiously and infrequently off the back foot, helmet-wearing players such as Australia`s Matthew Hayden were emboldened to hook off the front foot, a potentially riskier option.
Yet Vivian Richards, one of cricket`s greatest batsman, bucked the trend by hooking some of the fastest bowlers the game has known during the 1970s and 1980s with nothing more than a West Indies cap on his head.
"That you should cover yourself in a suit of armour, to make yourself brave, or to enable you to hook -- when you never hooked in your life -- just because you`ve got a helmet on. That`s rubbish," Richards told the Guardian in 2009.
"Even though they say cricket is a gentleman`s game, it`s a man`s game."
Yet no helmet can offer complete protection without at the same time making life uncomfortable for batsmen.
One way to improve batsmen`s safety would be an outright ban on bouncers, yet no major figure within cricket believes ridding the game of its "terrible beauty", to use Atherton`s phrase, is an option.
"Without fast bowling, without the physical threat, cricket is a lesser game," wrote Atherton. "But with that, comes inevitable risk."