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Batsmen must realise helmets are not impregnable

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3rd February, 2019
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The death of the very talented Phillip Hughes in November 2014 shocked the sporting world.

Struck on the back of his helmet in a Sheffield Shield game at the SCG, Hughes died in Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital just before his 26th birthday.

You would think that tragedy would be a wake-up call to all batsmen that while the helmet is a protective asset, it’s not impregnable.

But the message hasn’t got through, as two helmet-crushers in the current Manuka Oval Test, which could so easily have been far more serious, attest.

Sri Lankan opener Dimuth Karunaratne was heavily struck by a Pat Cummins bouncer that felled him, and he was carted off horizontal on a medicab.

Kusar Perera was felled by a Jhye Richardson bouncer that saw him slowly assisted from the field with wobbly legs.

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Thankfully both were eventually passed fit enough to continue, but both were close calls.

And both share the same problem with the current crop of cricketers: They close their eyes to duck a bouncer and hope for the best.

That’s a form of Russian roulette and a recipe for disaster which should never have surfaced.

Yet the reasons are simple.

Those born after 1980 have only ever worn helmets since they first started batting and have let that equipment be the safeguard rather than keeping their eyes open to closely watch the path of every ball.

There were no helmets, chest pads or arm guards during my career, just a box, a thigh pad and pads. But I was taught from the start to watch every delivery no matter where it was pitched. In time that was automatic, and it was exactly the same story for future teammates and the opposition.

Had I closed my eyes, ducked and hoped for the best in trying to avoid bouncers from Wes Hall and Gordon Rorke in the 1960s and the fiery Jeff Thomson-Lenny Pascoe combination in the 1970s, there’s little doubt the result would have been terminal.

Phil Hughes ducks under a bouncer

Have people learnt from the Phil Hughes tragedy? (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

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I must admit there were some close shaves, especially facing Hall, who played for Randwick throughout the 1965-66 season. That was 54 years ago, but the memories are as vivid as if it was yesterday.

Firstly, I had to snap out of watching Wes’s hypnotic golden crucifix swaying around his neck, catching the morning sun as he bounced in from off the Mosman Oval southern fence.

I’d cover-driven a four, and the next ball was a red laser beam that followed me. The further I bent backwards watching it, the further it bent, whistling past my nose so close I could smell it.

By the time I straightened, Wes was right in front of me, bending forward with both arms dangling loosely, sporting a huge grin.

“Just wanted to remind you who is bowling, man,” was his retaliation.

The next ball put a deep dent in my box that took two to three minutes upending my bat to take out with the top of the handle.

The meeting with Wes Hall and the one with Gordon Rorke, who was mainly a Mosman teammate who spent one season with Manly, also resulted in deep black, red, and yellow body bruising that lasted for well over a week.

But the head was always safe.

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The many clashes with Jeff Thomson and Lenny Pascoe produced the same multi-coloured body beltings, but again the head was safe.

There was one very different clash at Bankstown Oval.

Thommo bowled a searing bouncer to our very genuine No.11 John McKenzie, who wore horn-rimmed glasses. ‘Macca’ never saw it as it went perilously close to his head.

Barry Knight immediately declared, waiting at the gate to tell Thommo to just wait until he batted, with a few well-chosen expletives thrown in.

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When Thommo did bat Sandy Morgan had four wickets for little, but Knight grabbed the ball, went back some 50 metres, stormed in past the umpire, who was calling no ball, and threw the ball close enough to miss Thommo but give him one helluva fright.

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Thommo threw his arms, legs and bat to the wind, the ball sailed past me on the up at first slip and bounced only once before it cleared the fence – and Bankstown is a mighty big oval.

Pascoe, who was at the non-strikers end, started wielding his bat chasing Knight, booming a lot of expletives around “you Pommie bastard”. The sight of Knight, who was quick on his feet, being chased by Pascoe, who wasn’t quick and whose pads slowed him down further, was hysterical.

Eventually peace resumed and we all had a beer together after stumps.

Those are stories worth recalling because they were an integral part of what happened in Sydney first-grade cricket in a vastly different era.

But let’s not have another Phillip Hughes tragedy, which can only be avoided by every batsman watching every delivery, not by hoping for the best and ducking with eyes closed.