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Bowlers face growing risk in modern cricket

Phil Hughes was the victim of a bouncer, but is there a real danger to bowlers as well? (AP Photo/Chris Crerar)
Roar Guru
29th December, 2014
12

It’s a hard life for bowlers in Twenty20 cricket. There’s never enough fielders, the ropes are too close, the pitches too flat and the rules are too restrictive.

Now, if you believe Ricky Ponting’s recent assertions during the Big Bash so far this summer, there’s a new threat facing them. According to Punter, it’s one of his biggest fears – the fear that a bowler is going to get hit in the head by a cricket ball hit back at him.

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Watching some of the Big Bash this summer, you’d have to think that his concern is well placed.

With no fielders directly behind the bowler, going straight down the ground is increasingly becoming a go-to scoring zone for batsmen. As a result, we’re seeing more and more deliveries coming rocketing back in their direction, disappearing over, past and through the bowlers frantic duck for cover.

That knee-jerk reaction is perhaps the most worrying part for bowlers.

Where batsmen have the confidence of being well set, steady and a sightscreen flicked white behind them before they face up to bat, a bowler who has to register a ball is coming back in his direction at a rate of knots is at a disadvantage.

They will be overbalanced, unsteady, halfway through their follow through, a few yards closer, and are trying to pick the ball up out of a background of batsman, flashing bat and an ad for a big dirty bucket of KFC on the sightscreen behind the batsman.

They’re up against it. It’s a realistic danger too – that’s already been proven. Google Keegan Meth of Zimbabwe, if you want to see what a cricket ball being struck into your mouth can do.

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Be warned though, it’s not pretty.

Now, I’ll grant you, most balls don’t get hit anywhere near the bowler. Even the ones that do get hit back in the direction of the bowler are usually several metres above their head by the time they go past – or, they’re rocketing along the ground, which is another area where the bowlers are in the firing line.

Quick bowlers routinely are asked to try and get feet/ankles/legs/anything front of drives hammering back in their direction – Pat Cummins collected a painful blow on his foot and ankle in the Sixers versus Thunder game that I saw, and I’m sure he isn’t the only one either so far this summer.

It’s not just cricket that is starting to take note of this – baseball already has this little conundrum. They’ve had four pitchers struck in the past couple years.

Alex Cobb, JA Happ, Aroldis Chapman and Dan Jennings all got collected in the head after line drives were slugged back in their direction – similar to fast bowlers, the pitchers are overbalanced, heads down, arms tilted.

They have very little time to react, or indeed even register that the ball is coming back their way.

Baseball and cricket are reacting to this fairly similarly – with a shrug of the shoulders. Given the sheer amount of balls that are pitched or bowled, it’s inevitable that some are going to find their way back in the direction of the bowler.

Part of me agrees with this as one of the risks you endure playing this game. It’s difficult to think of what you can actually do to prevent a bowler being struck.

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Baseball pitchers have by and large rejected the idea of wanting any additional protection – even a helmet or padded cap is too much inconvenience for pitchers.

And they’re stationary when they pitch. Bowlers are sprinting in 20 metres, so they’re not going to be wearing any protection any time soon.

You can’t protect them with a net or a barrier of any sort. So they continue charging in, armed only with a ball that hasn’t changed much since 1877. Meanwhile, batters are securely standing on by flat pitches, full of bravado brought on by plenty of body armour, and armed with the most advanced bats in the world, that bear no resemblance to anything a few decades earlier.

What do Roarers think? Are bowlers really in the firing line and ripe for serious injury?

Or is this needless concern over something that has such a small chance of happening? And if there is concern, is there anything that can be done about it in any event?