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Opinion

Player safety at risk: It's time for action

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Roar Rookie
14th February, 2020
6

Why is it so difficult to see something that is staring you in the face day after day?

In the case of cricket, this difficulty may be due to the focus being on the batsman, at the receiving end. On television we see, week after week, batsmen being struck on the helmet, in circumstances that would have been disastrous had the protection not been there.

So why do we ignore the risks at the other end of the pitch? A risk significant enough to cause serious injury or perhaps be life threatening?

The next significant injury will be to a bowler who is struck in the head or neck by the ball. There is also a risk, although I think less likely, that a bowler will be struck dangerously under the heart.

I include only male cricketers because women cricketers don’t hit the ball as hard and therefore, although the risk exists, the potential for serious harm is significantly less.

How often do you see a batsman club the ball straight back down the pitch in the air toward the bowler, who barely flinches before the ball shoots past? If you haven’t had enough time to get those quick moving hands to the ball, how do you have enough time to get your head out of the way?

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Fast and fast-medium bowlers are especially vulnerable to being hit in the head because they need all their strength to maintain balance after delivery, and so trying to duck the ball is extremely difficult.

A batsman should be anticipating the chance that the ball could be bound for his head, while a fast bowler is more likely to be focused on completing his follow through and the occasional opportunity for a return catch.

A return in the form of a hammered Chris Lynn flat drive gives the bowler less decision-making time than a batsman facing 160 km/h bowler! And the bowler is running straight at the ball.

Only brief research shows that here have been instances in New Zealand and England where bowlers have been struck on the head and luckily, on each occasion serious injury was avoided. There will probably be many more that haven’t made the news.

In England last year, a David Warner drive struck a local net bowler in the head, resulting in a hospital visit and CT scans. In New Zealand, bowler Andrew Ellis was struck on the head by a ball hit by Jeet Raval and the ball went for six!. This glancing blow could have easily produced an horrendous outcome. When you see how little time Ellis had to react, it’s not difficult to see the potential for serious injury.

Ellis later wore a helmet while bowling.

In the world of risks, the likelihood of the specified outcome tends towards a certainty as the instances of near misses increases. There is no doubt that sooner or later a bowler will have his life altered forever as the result of a ball strike to the head.

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Are the ICC and cricket administrators worldwide aware of this risk? Cricket administrators have a duty of care for player safety, including the identification of emerging risks. The Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) has player welfare as one of its stated objectives. Surely player safety would be its concern, but I can’t find any record of a statement being made on this matter.

OK, so what is the solution? Helmets for bowlers, including neck protection? I don’t think so, but perhaps bowlers would be willing to wear helmets.

For the solution, look to the source of the problem, which is the rise and rise of super bats. Missing the sweet spot on the modern bat doesn’t cause much power loss, so batsman swing hard, in full knowledge that if the ball hits anywhere full on the blade, it could go for six.

The thick top edge may also fly high and long into the crowd. This risk taking wouldn’t occur if the mishit was likely to balloon a filthy 40 metres; that is what used to happen. So, batsmen swing hard and often; the modern bat producing unprecedented power.

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No-one wants to ‘take the air out of the ball’, yet that is the obvious answer, make bats the same as they were (say) in the 1980s. Who is willing to put that forward as a solution?

I sincerely hope that we don’t have the sort of incident I’ve outlined here. Cricket administrations along with relevant experts should be looking at this situation and taking some action.