The sight of a batsman lying on the pitch after being hit by a bouncer is a terrifying sight. When a young, promising batsman loses his life because of an injury on the field, it is a tragedy.
Phil Hughes’ unfortunate death from a cerebral hemorrhage after he failed to make contact with a Sean Abbot’s bouncer in a domestic game in Australia, once again reminds us of the dangers of playing any game, even cricket, where the batsmen often walk out protected from head to toe like warriors.
India’s Nari Contractor had a metal plate inserted into his head after his skull was fractured by a bouncer from West Indies’ Charlie Griffith; Sandeep Patil was almost knocked out by Australia’s Len Pascoe, Sanjay Manjrekar was hit by Winston Davis, K Srikkanth by Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar by Waqar Younus and Raman Lamba died while fielding at forward shortleg when a batsman hit the ball straight into his forehead.
Writing for the Telegraph after Hughes was felled by a bouncer; former England opener Geoff Boycott narrated an interesting conversation. “I once asked Len Hutton, a great iconic player, whether he hooked Ray Lindwall or Keith Miller. He said once he tried it at the Oval and he got halfway through the shot then cut it out because out of the corner of his eye he could see the hospital. That tells you everything.”
Yes, cricket is a dangerous game. In the split-second between the ball leaving a fast bowler’s hand and reaching a batsman, many things can happen. One of them is the possibility of a grievous injury.
But does that mean cricket is an unsafe game?
Considering the number of balls that are hurled at batsmen across hundreds of pitches in cricket-playing nation’s every day, such accidents are rare. And it is not just because of the protective gear like helmets.
Cricket is all about footwork, hand-eye coordination and confidence. India’s greatest opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar played all his life without a helmet (in the later stages he started wearing a skull cap). His adversaries back then were ferocious bowlers like Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. Also, that was a time when pitches were uncovered. But no bowler ever managed to hit Gavaskar.
Introduction of helmets, as Boycott argues, may have actually made batsmen more vulnerable. Convinced that they will not be hit, many batsmen these days do not take the art of playing a bouncer seriously. It is unfortunate that Hughes died. But many experts had always pointed out that his ability against the rising ball was suspect and this was one of the reasons he was struggling to cement his place in the Australian side.
Dealing with a bouncer requires the patience of a tapasvi, the courage of a warrior and the precision of an archer. Duck, sway, hit are the three words coaches keep telling young batsmen. But in the age of instant cricket and insane strike rates, swaying out of the line of or ducking to a bouncer are disappearing from manuals. Everybody now wants to hit a bouncer.
Boycott writes before the advent of helmets, tail-enders would be in a tearing hurry to get out if the opponent was a fast bowler. But now they feel safe and want to pull or hook every short ball.
So, what is the way out? Should youngsters get scared because of unfortunate incidents that kill batsmen? Should bouncers be banned? Or would it be better to make youngsters practice without helmets?
None of this would make cricket free of accidents. As long as there is cricket, bowlers, helmets and bouncers will be around. But if you are willing to put in those extra grueling hours in the net against the red cherry, if you are willing to follow the technique perfected by great batsmen like Don Bradman (remember he was part of the ‘Bodyline’ series against England) and Gavaskar, there is very little to fear on a cricket pitch.
So, pray for Hughes. But continue to enjoy the game.
Updated Date: Nov 28, 2014 13:59:43 IST