Focus on helmets in cricket after death of Hughes
Manchester: As the world of cricket reels from the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, it's hard to imagine that less than 40 years ago the first player to wear a full helmet during a cricket test match was booed by the crowd for his apparent cowardice.
On that day in 1978, Australian left-hander Graham Yallop walked to the crease in Barbados to a backdrop of jeers, wearing an improvised motorcycle helmet — complete with plastic visor — to protect him from the short-pitch bowling by the West Indies' fearsome pacemen.
Almost 40 years on, the design of cricket helmets is much more refined and hi-tech, but are they affording the right level of protection to batsmen receiving deliveries of up to 90 miles per hour from the world's quickest bowlers? And will helmets ever guarantee the safety of a batsman?
Those are the questions swirling around a shaken sport following the death of Hughes, two days after he appeared to be struck on the neck or the back of his head — below the helmet he was wearing — from a sharply rising delivery during a match in Australia.
"It is important to say that there will never be a day where we will have a helmet that is completely secure and eliminates risk altogether," Angus Porter, chief executive of the English Professional Cricketers' Association, told The Associated Press. "I don't think that is achievable."
Amid the outpouring of grief, Hughes' death has been described by many — doctors and past or present players — as a freakish accident, a one-off. Australia great Shane Warne said it was "just one of those things" that can happen on a cricket field.
"Sadly for Phil, it must have hit one of the very few spots that has done some damage, some severe damage," said former England captain Mike Gatting, who had his nose broken by a short-pitched delivery from West Indies fast bowler Malcolm Marshall in 1986.
However, helmet manufacturers are insisting more can be done.
Masuri, the maker of the helmet Hughes was wearing on Tuesday, said in a statement that he was not wearing the latest model of helmet that "does afford batsmen extra protection" in the region where Hughes was struck. It is seeking more video footage to determine the point of impact.
The managing director of sporting goods company Albion has said there is resistance among players about wearing the most up-to-date helmets.
"We need to do something to enforce change," Albert Denning told the Sydney Morning Herald, "because a lot of it has been reluctance from the playing group in terms of embracing the new stuff." He said most cricketers prefer the "look and feel" of the more traditional helmets.
The motorcycle-style helmets of the late 1970s and 80s, famously worn by Yallop and the likes of former England players Tony Greig and Dennis Amiss, had covering at the back of the head. They were regarded as too cumbersome, though, and a balance needed to be struck to improve sight and head movement.
Modern-day helmets are more streamlined, with the shells on the top of the head constructed from fibre glass and/or carbon fibre. The metal grille at the front of the helmet offers protection while minimizing its impact on visibility. The neck is not covered.
"Of course, it needs to protect the batsman but it needs to be wearable, allow the batsman to manoeuver his head because his primary objective is to hit the ball and not have the ball hit him," Porter said. "Anything that is too big and unwieldy, for example any helmet that comes too far down the back of the head, is unlikely to be a successful compromise."
Former England captain Nasser Hussain said Thursday that protection needed to be added to helmets around the neck area because the instinct of batsmen is to turn their heads in an attempt to avoid bouncers.
"After what has happened this week," Hussain said, "strapping on your pads and going to face Mitchell Johnson without that area protected would be a concern."
Another former England captain, Andrew Strauss, called for an investigation into the incident involving Hughes but stopped short of suggesting that banning bowlers from delivering short balls is the way to go.
"The protection in the game of cricket has never been better than it is today," Strauss said. "I don't think any cricketer will go out there to bat these days worrying that his life might be on the line."