The deeply tragic death of Australia batsman Phillip Hughes at just three days short of his 26th birthday is a pointer towards how cricket, and indeed global sporting culture, needs a drastic overhaul. Hughes, a vivacious southpaw with a sparkling career, died when he was hit in the head by a bouncer from Sean Abbott, a 22-year-old fast bowler.
The ball pierced Hughes’ helmet and hit him at the back of his head, cracking his skull. The 25-year-old batsman died within two days in a Sydney hospital, but this has rightly led to a debate on how safe our sports are and whether there is a greater need to bolster safety standards across the world. Considered one of the safest games, cricket is a far cry from full contact bloodsports like boxing, judo or taekwondo, and even from football, which registers far greater number of injuries on an average. In fact, cricket has come a long way from the olden says of infamous bodyline delivery practiced during the 30s and perfected by the English cricket team during a particularly devastating tour of Australia.
However, Hughes’ death has come from a less harmless style of delivery, known as the bouncer, and in the last Ashes series, this was fast bowling at a pace of 150 kmph and sending the high-speed missiles whistling past the ears of batsmen, chiefly English. This was perfected by Mitchell Johnson of Australia, who was named ICC Cricketer of the Year, who ‘softened up’ the rival team batsmen by making them worried about their own safety rather than scoring runs for his team. Bouncers, therefore, take cricket to the intervening realm between contact sport and leisurely games, injecting into the gentleman’s game a heady dose of adrenaline rush, while at the same time subjecting it to a considerable amount of risk. If bouncers are to stay, protective gears such as helmets and pads need substantial makeover, in order to withstand the balls of fury.