It has been hard to digest that a cricketer of Phillip Hughes stature is fighting for his life after being struck in the head by a bouncer from the unfortunate Shaun Abbott in a Sheffield Shield match. Watching the footage which has been removed from many internet sites was sickening.
Respected ABC cricket commentator Jim Maxwell has described the incident saying “It was just one of those horribly, fluky things that can happen in the game. Phillip Hughes has ducked and weaved and hooked many short balls in his illustrious but brief career.”
On this occasion he tried to hook, missed the ball and appeared to be struck below the edge of the helmet just behind the left ear.
This was an accomplished cricketer who was established at the crease on 63 not out who mistimed a shot and was struck. It has happened many time previously to batsmen but never with such an horrific outcome.
There have understandably risen arguments as to whether the helmets are sufficient to protect batsmen from such an incident. Hughes was a top level player so had shown his ability, but one thing that the dawn of helmets has done has exposed some players technical weaknesses. In the days before helmets became de rigeur 30 years ago, a batsman was told to watch the ball at all times, when he received a bouncer he either ducked under it, weaved to the side or hooked it. (Having been struck in the face mistiming a hook without a helmet on a schoolboys tour to Australia I know how lucky I was and did not hook for another two years!)
There is only so much you can do to protect a player. Today the protective equipment is first class. Players like Philip Hughes have shown that they have the ability and technique to cope with such deliveries; proving that this was a really freak occurrence, and one that has rocked the cricket world.
It has been pleasing to note how much support has been shown to the bowler Shaun Abbott. No one can possibly image what he must be going through at this point in time. One minute he was doing his best for his side, bowling fast and aggressively doing all he can to obtain the wicket of the batsman at the crease, the next minute he has a guy unconscious on the floor and now fighting for his life. He should not be blamed for what has happened as he never deliberately aimed to hit Phillip Hughes, but he will undoubtedly feel very differently.
Growing up I remember vividly a similar incident in 1975 New Zealander tail ender Ewen Chatfield swallowed his tongue and stopped breathing after being hit on the temple by English fast bowler Peter Lever in a test match in New Zealand.
England physio Bernard Thomas, saved Chatfield’s life running on the pitch and pulling his tongue out from obstructing his throat. Incredibly as England only needed one wicket on that final day there was no doctor at the ground in Auckland, and had it not been for the swift action of Thomas cricket could well have had a tragedy then.
“I honestly thought I had killed him as I saw him lying there in convulsions. I felt sick and ashamed at what I had done and all I could think when I got back to the pavilion was that I wanted to retire.” Peter Lever told ESPN in an interview in 2008. Lever left the field walking behind the stretcher weeping. His team-mates tried to convince him that he was not to blame. He made two visits to the hospital that day. The first time Chatfield was still unconscious, but when Lever returned later he had somewhat recovered and assured Lever that the accident was his own fault.
Lever was a shattered man, and some would say he was never the same bowler after the fact was at what had happened.
Not surprisingly as the Hughes incident has done debate was triggered on the legitimacy of bouncers, especially at tailenders. Just the same week It came Pakistan’s Intikab Alam had been struck a sickening blow by West Indian Paceman Andy Roberts; Luckily it was not serious. Both of these incidents came on the back of the Ashes series where Jeff Thomson the Australian fast bowler had infamously told TV viewers how he enjoyed hitting batsmen.
This is a terribly sad incident and the fact that we have to go back almost 40 years for a similar one, and at a time when there were no helmets shows that they are not common. At the moment we should turn our attention to the players and hope that all of them cope with witnessing the horrific incident and that Phil Hughes is able to resume a normal life.
Finally debate will continue to rage as to how the game can be made safer. As to whether the powers that be need to change the Laws of Cricket, or the umpires review their interpretation of them, maybe that discussion will follow. The current Laws state.
(i)The bowling of fast short pitched balls is dangerous and unfair if the bowler’s end umpire considers that by their repetition and taking into account their length, height and direction they are likely to inflict physical injury on the striker irrespective of the protective equipment he may be wearing. The relative skill of the striker shall be taken into consideration.
(ii) Any delivery which, after pitching, passes or would have passed over head height of the striker standing upright at the popping crease, although not threatening physical injury, shall be included with bowling under (i) above, both when the umpire is considering whether the bowling of fast short pitched balls has become dangerous and unfair and after he has so decided. The umpire shall call and signal no ball for each such delivery.