Colin Croft

Colin Croft

Commentary by Colin E. H. Croft

The death of Australian left-handed international opener Phillip Joel Hughes has hit us very hard indeed. Seldom does this happen in our sport, even if practically similar situations could occur any time a relatively faster bowler is plying his trade.

That ball hit the back of Hughes’ head and neck, unprotected parts of the anatomy that are normally exposed when batsmen, despite almost total insulation in body armour, instinctively turn their heads away from oncoming deliveries aimed to their faces, taking those most vital body parts – the eyes off the ball.

In this case, Hughes hooked too early, swiveling past the ball thus exposing his neck and back of head, signaling this great tragedy for the Hughes’ family and latest for our cricket family worldwide.
In USA, National Football League (NFL) veterans are suing their league about injuries gained during playing careers. Indeed, USA high school and college kids have recently died from concussions gotten even with tremendous protective body-pads and helmets on. I recall “hitting” Australian off-spinning helmet-less allrounder Bruce Yardley in Bourda, 1978, after he had carved the previous delivery for six over backward point. For the next delivery, a bouncer, Yardley actually backed into the ball and was capped. He was out cold for some considerable time.

Mostly, in olden days, myths of fast bowlers attacking batsmen made Aesop Fables seem like real fun! Facing and playing really fast bowling has never been much fun, even if several great batsmen have made many runs against them, for there always will be that great fear factor that something like this could occur. Batsmen of 1960’s, even to 1980’s, though, firstly learned how to bat intelligently, using proper techniques, especially eyes and feet to evade deliveries, before using body protection, except “boxes”.

Modern batmen, however, with “armour” on, contrary to those 30-40 years ago, seldom manage, or actually know how to use the only real parts of their bodies they should engage – their eyes and feet – to evade bouncers and aggressive fast bowling. When I first played First Class cricket in the mid 1970’s, the concept of batting with a helmet on was a myth. Few, including me, ever wore helmets to ride street motorcycles that went over 100 miles per hour. Stupid!

No batsman back then, facing pacers Sir Wesley Hall (WI), Charlie Griffith (WI), Graeme Mc Kenzie (Australia), Dennis Lillee (Australia), Peter Pollock (South Africa), Fred Truman (England) and Jeff Thompson (Australia), worried too much about cricketing heath while batting. Most batsmen simply shuffled, bobbed, ducked and weaved, like boxers!

Modern batsmen, inexplicably, even allow deliveries to hit their bodies without swaying out of the way or using feet to elude, since they are normally protected by ubiquitous helmets, thigh-pads on both leg, chest and back guards, elbow guards, normal leg-guards etc.

Nowadays, it is like bowling to Sir Lancelot. No coach whom I have encountered in 20 years of Sports Journalism, since 1994, has ever suggested that the best form of protection from fast bowling is evasion. No-one seems to understand or appreciate feet.

Roy Fredericks (WI), Sir Vivian Richards (WI), Sir Gary Sobers (WI), Mustaq Mohammed (Pakistan), Wasim Raja (PAK), Gundappa Viswanath (IND), Sunil Gavaskar (IND), Clive Lloyd (WI), Ian and Greg Chappell (Australia), Alan Border (Australia), John Wright (New Zealand), Geoff Boycott (England), Gordon Greenidge (WI), Desmond Haynes (WI) etc., were very seldom hit, simply because they used their eyes and feet so stunningly well.

Modern batting geniuses Brian Lara (WI), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Shiv Chanderpaul (WI), Rahul Dravid (India), Inzamam ul Haq (Pakistan), Graeme Smith (South Africa), Alastair Cook (England), Kevin Pietersen (England), Steve and Mark Waugh (Australia) etc., even sometimes encased in protective gear, managed to still use their eyes and feet brilliantly too, the very first, and best, tools for evasion and protection from very fast bowlers.

But similar incidents remind us occasionally as to how dangerous cricket can be. Most would remember WI batsman Phil Simmons being hit on the head by a delivery from Gloucestershire’s David “Syd” Lawrence in 1988.

Surprisingly, Simmons was not wearing a helmet. Simmons died that day, as one reflex body consequence of being hit severely, violently, on the head is almost immediate swallowing of the tongue, thus restricting the flow of oxygen into wind-pipe and lungs. Superb immediate medical attentions and subsequent surgical procedures kept Simmons alive after that. He is kicking as the present quite successful head-coach of Ireland.

Not so lucky has been his 25-year old Australian name-sake who was destined for tremendous cricket glory, had he not succumbed so tragically. How cricket recovers from this real-life tragedy will be interesting. Lara is correct in suggesting that he hopes, like we who are concerned with the evolution of cricket do, that some additional, asinine dispensation does not eventually come out of this real-life tragedy, to again penalise fast bowlers for simply doing their jobs well, while batsmen become more staid, falsely protected by laws in batsmen’s favour and by their inabilities to be mobile at the crease.

But this is a very sad time for world cricket. Losing one of our brothers in such a way was not prescribed.

First Published in the Kaieteur News of Guyana

About Colin Croft

Colin Croft, a cricket commentator and analyst, was part of the potent West Indian quartet of fast bowlers from the late 70s and early 80s.

Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of GrenadaSports.

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