The Dangerous Gentlemanly game
It was all over in a blink of the eye. That regular short pitched ball from Abbot, a lifting bouncer was climbing on the swivelling Hughes, who in a momentary rush of blood took his eyes of the ball, went for the hook, played early, ended up exposing his left ear and neck. The 160 gm red cherry thudded into the area below the ear and neck which had no protection from the helmet. What followed was a tragic on field event which is a blotch on the once aristocratic Gentleman’s game. (To be fair to Abbot and lend a consoling hand, the replay will tell you, it wasn't a menacing missile, rising from an uncomfortable length, but a rank short ball which was a mere 80 mph run of the mill short pitch delivery)
Debates on forums, blogs and cyberspace have sprung up by the millions dissecting, analyzing, discussing the event from multiple views. From the technique, safety, rules of the game, new laws every possible view point and aspect are in for a detailed scrutiny. There are even calls for banning the bouncers, which in my view is preposterous. It is like putting a speed governor of 60 MPH on a Formula 1 car. In my view the laws of modern day cricket are already loaded heavily on the side of the batsman and by taking away the bouncer, we will only embolden the batsman to venture on the front foot and soon Hooks and pulls on the front foot will seal the fate of the bowler.
The art of setting a field to a short pitch delivery, the deep fine leg, the square leg combo, and slipping in a Yorker fooling the batsman who is expecting a snorter is one of the many mind games and plans that have ruled cricket since inception. The art of pushing a player to the back foot by sheer pace would be lost and the already emboldened batsmen will always be on the front foot giving the bowler no chance of getting through to the stumps or legs.
I strongly believe the key lies in improving the safety aspects of the game, especially the vulnerable areas like chest, abdomen and head, apart from getting the technique of getting into the line – even for short balls, before leaving them alone. While it is true, fitness levels and hi-tech coaching standards keep the bowlers improving their pace and precision, innovation in protective gear will ensure that the game remains safe as it always has been.
We have come a long way from the pouchy looking ‘Skull Cap’ designed by the legendary Sunil Gavaskar to the modern day light weight space age material cricket helmets, the evolution has been dramatic.It is just that, with a little more invention to protect the neck and the other exposed areas of the head, the game can be an even battle ground both for the batsman and the bowler.
Taking a leaf out of Formula 1 racing, the basic helmet has given way to a full fledged Head and Neck Support (HANS) system complete with a carbon fiber shoulder collar, taking safety to a completely new level. Maybe a unique system for cricket on similar lines for the batsmen and the close in fielders (especially the forward short leg kinds) may be the solution to making this a safe sport.
This incident in my view, while tragic (my heart goes out to his family and friends) is a freakish one, and I do believe that poor Hughes was at the wrong place at the wrong time and on the wrong end of the barrel.