14 months since Hughes tragedy, cricket yet to implement a helmet policy

  • Gaurav Bhatt, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 29, 2016 18:02 IST
England batsman Stuart Broad is hit by a ball through the grill of his helmet from Varun Aaron. (AFP Images)

The sight of Mitchell McClenaghan lying on the ground during Monday’s one-dayer between New Zealand and Pakistan was sickening to say the least. The Kiwi No. 10 had been happily swinging away till a bouncer burst through the gap in his helmet grille and hit him flush above the eye.

The 29-year-old escaped with a hairline fracture and one helluva shiner.

But the world doesn’t need a reminder of how wrong things can go. It has been 14 months, but the death of Phil Hughes still resonates strongly.

There is a fascinating irony involving the protection cricketers wear now compared to the past. The better protected they are, the more they seem to get hit.

Fewer batsmen got hit on the head back in the day, despite the nightmarish pace attacks and no restriction on bouncers. Even after India skipper Nari Contractor’s career was ended by a Charlie Griffith bouncer in 1962, helmets didn’t become mainstream until the World Series in 1977. Sunil Gavaskar continued with the practically useless skullcap while Viv Richards hung his boots without ever donning a helmet.

While the maverick West Indian looks back at his bravado as ‘pure madness’, his reasoning to never wear a helmet reminds us why self-preservation is called the first law of nature.

“It made me much more aware, watching the ball,” Richards said in an interview. “Knowing that one slight mistake *snaps fingers* my number could be up like that.”

The extra protection has fractionally weakened the self-preservation instinct of the modern-day batsmen, who are mandated to wear helmets from a very young age. Those who have never protected their heads are often better at making sure they get out of the way. (Case in point: the umpires, who have only recently opted for protection after a couple of mishaps.)

The mindset of modern batsmen has changed. It is score first, defend second. Hook or pull first, duck second. A blow to the head is but a low-risk hazard -- one which could produce a leg bye or four.

While even the best in the business can get tagged from time to time – be it Ricky Ponting’s cut cheek or Rahul Dravid’s broken jaw -- the modern batsmen are less adept at playing the short ball due to a plethora of factors, including, but not limited to, heavier bats, exaggerated back-lifts and shuffles, docile tracks, ever-increasing totals and a resulting tendency to hook or pull off the front foot.

Like McClenaghan, Hughes was hit while attempting an attacking shot and playing the stroke too early. Craig Kieswetter too suffered a fractured eye socket which forced the English wicketkeeper to retire shortly afterwards.

Improvement needed

While the modern technique leaves a lot to be desired, the disparity in helmet design doesn’t help matters. The majority of high-profile injuries in recent years have been to the eyes and face as the ball either squeezes through the grille or forces the grille onto the batsman’s face.

While the lighter, more streamlined Ayrtek helmets reduce the risk of the latter, a look at Stuart Broad’s bloodied nose would tell you that they’re not much good if the ball sneaks through.

Long-time manufacturer Masuri got it right, when their new design saved Australian Riki Wessels’s face after the ball was lodged between the reduced gap between the grille and the visor.

McClenaghan, however, was wearing an older Masuri variant, according to teammate Trent Boult, and “that was down to his personal preference.”

This is where ICC needs to step in and establish clear guidelines and global standards. As much as it is up to personal preferences, the helmets should meet certain criteria. As for the batsmen, well, it’s high time they started considering helmets a part of their body.

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