It was inevitable that in this world where few are prepared to accept responsibility for their own actions that sport has to protect itself by making moves to ensure the safety of those who play it, but are some of these measures really the right approach?
The English Cricket Board announced last week on the eve of the first anniversary of Phillip Hughes’ death, that new helmet safety measures would be introduced.
The Australian batsman died aged 25, two days after being struck on the top of the neck by a ball during a domestic match in Sydney, in November 2014. It was as many have stated a freak occurrence.
Yet the ECB has announced that new measures will require all male and female cricketers to use helmets when batting. Wicketkeepers standing up to the stumps and fielders closer than eight yards to the batsman’s middle stump, except behind the wicket on the off side, will also have to wear helmets.
The ECB has hidden behind yet another committee when making these announcements. It has said that the ‘recommendations followed a joint review by the ECB and the Professional Cricketers’ Association, and were designed to reduce the risk of head and facial injuries within the game.’
At the same time Retired opening batsman Chris Rogers who would have played alongside Hughes has stated his surprise that “stem guards” on helmets have not been made compulsory and is reported to have called for this to be the case sooner rather than later.
The stem guard is a rubber-like compound that clips to the back of the helmet and is aimed to give added protection at the rear.
Of course everyone should applaud any effort to make any sport safer, but are helmets the definitive way to make the game safer.
This writer was watching and playing cricket a long time before helmets came on the scene. At that time players relied heavily on a good technique to avoid being hit. A batsman needed to be balanced in the crease, and then had the option to duck or sway out of the way of a ball. The two key components of this evasive action were never take your eye off the ball and never turn your back on it.
Since the advent of helmets how often do we see batsmen hit on the head? Sure there is more cricket played now and there is more live on television, but it would appear that at least almost one player a test match is being hit on the helmet. IT would be hard to say that the bowlers are more ferocious than Lillee, Thomson, Holding, Garner and Marshall. IT would also be hard to say that the wickets are not in fact better and more predictable than in the years gone by. So it has to be technique.
If the powers that be wanted to seriously make the game safer they would analyse all of the times the top players have been hit, and look at how many times the batsman has taken his eye off the ball or turned his back and head away from the ball. This would be a very interesting statistic as it will show how since helmets came into the game players have, like teenage drivers in cars with numerous safety features, believed that they are safe and do not have to adhere to the age-old rules that protected their predecessors.
Nowhere has any Cricket body looked into the way in which batsman have reacted prior to being hit. Many purists genuinely believe that most have been hit because of a poor technique and abiding by the rules of old.
Will helmets protect a player from serious injury if hit on the head? The answer is yes, probably. Yet will helmets help prevent players being hit on the head? No, and that is surely where the powers that be need to focus their attention.
There was a reason that those basic coaching techniques stood the test of time, and there is a very clear reason why they need to be instilled in as many young players as possible and at a very early age. It is time that the Authorities turned their attention to this rather than improvised shots such as the ramp!