Helmets Have Made Batsmen Feel Impregnable

Short-pitched bowling is an essential part of cricket but I hope Hughes makes a full recovery after accident, writes Daily Telegraph columnist Geoffrey Boycott.

Published: 27th November 2014 11:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2014 11:13 AM   |  A+A-

Most of my career I batted on uncovered pitches without a helmet. This taught me how important it was to have a good technique and courage against fast bowling. Why? Because you required judgment of what to leave, when to duck and when to play the ball. But you had to be even more careful about attempting to hook because at the back of your mind you knew that if you made a mistake you could get seriously hurt.

I once asked Len Hutton, a great iconic player, whether he hooked Ray Lindwall or Keith Miller. He said he once tried it at the Oval and he got halfway through the shot then cut it out because out of the corner of his eye he could see the hospital. That tells you everything.

Before the advent of helmets in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in the late 1970s, if a team had a genuine fast bowler, tail-enders did not hang around. You did not see tail?enders propping and copping. They played shots or got out because at the back of their mind they were terrified of being hurt.

Helmets have unfortunately now taken away a lot of that fear and have given every batsman a false sense of security. They feel safe and people will now attempt to either pull or hook almost every short ball that is bowled at them.

Even tail-enders come in and bat like millionaires, flailing away and having a go at short balls with poor technique and a lack of footwork. Helmets have made batsmen feel safe in the belief that they cannot be hurt and made batsmen more carefree and careless.

As a consequence more players get hit on the helmet nowadays than ever got hit on the head, before we batted without this protection.

I was lucky that I grew up without helmets in the Sixties and Seventies so learnt from a very early age I had to be very selective.

I was nearly 39, an age when most players have retired, before I first batted with a helmet. It was the World Cup final of 1979 against those West Indies fast bowlers so I thought it wise to wear one. But even then I still played in an old-fashioned way and was wary of attempting to hook them.

That is why we older players are always saying that the true test of a batsman is against genuine fast bowlers like Mitchell Johnson in a Test where the fast bowler can bowl an unlimited amount of overs with no restrictions on short-pitched balls or restrictions on field placings.

It is so different from guys who make their name and money slogging fours and sixes in Twenty20 and 50-over cricket with all the limitations on bowlers and fielders.

Helmets, grilles and visors can look a bit ugly but they can save cricketers from serious injury and on many occasions they have done. Youngsters of today who have

grown up with them all their life feel, with some justification, that helmets are supposed to stop them getting serious head injuries, and visors and grilles are supposed to save them from facial disfigurement.

But there are no guarantees. Unless us batsmen wear a suit of armour there are always going to be injuries in cricket and those suffered by Stuart Broad in the summer and now Phillip Hughes in Sydney are a sad reminder of that fact.

Remember in 1986 when Mike Gatting went to pull Malcolm Marshall in an one-day international in Jamaica? He was hit in the face and had his nose broken, forcing him to return home.

Before that Andy Lloyd of Warwickshire, playing his first Test at Edgbaston in June 1984, ducked into a bouncer from Marshall with a helmet on and was struck on the side of the head. Lloyd was taken to hospital, played no further cricket for the rest of that summer and never batted again in a Test.

But you cannot take away fast bowling or short-pitched bowling from cricket. There will always be injuries in cricket, rugby, soccer or any sport because of the competitive nature but it is not nice when it happens.

I am very sad for Phil Hughes because nobody likes to see a young man in hospital in a critical condition, and we can only hope that he pulls through and makes a full recovery.


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