The death of Phillip Hughes is undoubtedly one of the most tragic moments in the history cricket. Other cases of injuries and wounds abound in the past including Mike Gatting’s broken nose while being struck by one of Marshall Malcom’s deliveries in 1986. These have in turn raised questions about the safety of cricketers, specially that of batsmen who face deliveries of a ball weighing 5.5 and 5 ounces at a lightning speed.
The “bodyline” technique as developed by Doughlas Jardine-led English team during the 1930s Australia versus England series came to be criticised for being both “unfair” and “un-sportsmanlike” after causing a skull fracture in Bert Oldfield along with a series of other blows and injuries to other Australian batsmen. The technique was aimed at restricting the area of operation of the batsmen by sticking to a line of delivery that is too close to the body. Lacking the necessary area to swing one’s bat, the bodyline technique calls for swift foot movement for creating space for the hook shot that was used as a fit response to the “bumpers” delivered on the field by Mclaren, Wooley, Hendren, Sutcliffe, Robertson, Denis Compton and Bill Edrich.
Apart from bodyline bowling, the modern-day armour of the batsmen including pads, helmets, safety guards, thigh guards, etc. still fail to ensure safety.
However, while technology will keep making inroads to better safety mechanisms, one needs to understand that risk is not a unique characteristic of cricket alone. Therefore, banning bouncers altogether is not going to ensure the safety of its players. Back in 2004, Christiano Junior– the Brazillian striker of Dempo Sports Club- had collapsed on the Bangalore field after colliding with the goalkeeper seconds after scoring his second goal. Equally dangerous and potentially fatal are other games including ice hockey and American football. Headgears in these games, thus, too act a safety mechanism against injuries acquired during the game.
Coming back to the field of cricket, it is understandable when one of India’s best bowlers, Javagal Srinath thus underlines in the article, The Intriguing Question published by The Hindu, that one cannot completely evade risk and threats in a game. It is similar to life itself. One cannot predict all the vagaries of life, but nevertheless prepare oneself to deal with it; or better live it. However, one need not forget that restraint and discretion are also the two aspects of our lives making them what they are and what we make of them on an everyday basis. So is the case with cricket. While banning is the polar opposite of having an all-bouncers or pro-bouncers campaign against a game considered to be tilted more in favour of the bat than the ball, it is not unreasonable to call for discretion and reasonable limits in the rules and limits of the game.
Faced with a tragedy such as the death of a young cricketer and the question it sparked and re-ignited, it is thus up to the cricketing fraternity to decide what and how they want to live the game from now. The course of cricket is as simple as one of the pioneers of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar puts it in his biography, “Playing it [our] way.”
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