The opening rounds of the County Championship in England have been dominated by discussions about batting helmets. England Test captain Alastair Cook batted against Gloucestershire in the County Championship in an old-style helmet that was in contravention of new England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) safety regulations. This was reported in The Times and it created quite a storm.
Here was the England captain, the man from exactly the right kind of family, going against a very clear change in policy instituted by his employers about the need to wear a helmet that conforms to the most up-to-date safety regulations.
Cook eventually relented and wore the new helmet in the next match against Sussex, but it has sparked a freedom of choice debate about player safety. Governments and other regulatory bodies telling people that they are compelled to do something that is against their will but in their best interests is nothing new. It is the reason why people wear seatbelts, hard hats at construction sites and helmets while riding motorbikes.
The reason the ECB has asked all players to wear the newer helmets is pretty straightforward — they fear that unless the visor and grill are fixed there is a danger of the ball going through and striking the batsman on the face. This can have disastrous consequences, as we saw when Craig Kieswetter was struck in the face when a ball went between the grill and visor when he was playing against Northamptonshire in July 2014.
Despite 11 months of attempted rehabilitation, in June 2015, Kieswetter announced his eye-sight had been damaged to such an extent that he would have to retire at just 27-years-old. The ECB do not want this to happen again, and in conjunction with the Professional Cricketers Association, created this new set of regulations.
Stopping a major injury, or in the absolute worst case scenario, a player losing his life, is something that should be praised not derided. Cricket is a game and a form of entertainment, there is no need for any player to risk a career-ending injury or death. An extra bar on a grill of a helmet is a small price to pay for reducing the chance of something so awful happening to someone.
There are those who will argue that player are safer with helmets they are comfortable with, and this may be true, but they are safer still with a compliant helmet that they are comfortable with.
Ayrtek, a helmet manufactory based in the UK, explained on their Twitter account that it is about getting the new helmet fitted correctly. "Adoption and adaption key point here, get the helmet fitted correctly so field of vision isn't compromised and the bar isn't in view," they tweeted.
This will stop being an issue very soon, players will be forced to adapt. The old-style helmets are no longer being manufactured. As they get worn out, players will have no choice but to wear one with the new grill/visor set up. In the meantime, the ECB has done the right thing by making sure there is not another incident like the one that saw the promising career of Craig Kieswetter cut short.
People are creatures of habit, and when they find themselves confronted by change it rarely makes them happy, even if it is for their own good. It will be pointed out ad nauseam that players in the past would not have been happy about being told they had to wear a helmet at all. Rather than arguing against the new set of rules, this actually backs up the change. If Viv Richards had started playing cricket 20 years later than he did, he would have worn a helmet as a matter of course. Over time, what was once considered innovative becomes the norm.
No one likes being told what to do, but there are times when you just have to accept it. Cook may not like the newer helmet, but he will adapt to it. Increased safety standards are a good thing, and while they may impinge on personal freedoms that is the price you have to pay for being safe. And the helmet manufacturers are very keen to point out that any issues with visibility are down to the fitting of the helmet and not the design.
There will be those that this angers, many of them will be current and former professional cricketers who feel they are best placed to judge what keeps them safe. They will complain about the nanny state and how this is a slippery slope towards further restrictions on personal freedom. It isn't that, rather it is an acknowledgement that player safety is a vital component of modern sport. It's better that players are protected, even if that is from themselves.