The cricket world was stunned by the news that a top Australian cricketer Phil Hughes was killed after being hit at the base of the skull by a ball. Serious head injuries had been more common in the past but were greatly reduced ever since batsmen started wearing protective gear like hard helmets with face masks and extensive padding over the body, though they do still happen.
The ball that killed Hughes was a ‘bouncer’. In cricket, a fast bowler on occasion will ‘pitch short’, i.e., make it hit the ground about half way down the pitch. This causes the ball to bounce head high or greater and is done to surprise and unsettle the batsman and cause him to mishit the ball and thus get out.
When I think of head injuries in cricket, the near-fatal one to Indian Test cricketer and captain Nari Contractor back in 1962 in the one that first comes to mind. He made a courageous comeback two years later but never made it on to the Test side again but is still alive and active at age 80. He played on the same Indian Test side as Farokh Engineer, making for the highly unlikely and amusing combination of Engineer and Contractor.
There was time back in the 1930s during the infamous ‘bodyline’ tour of Australia when the English team adopted this practice as a matter of policy against Australia and had their fast bowlers such as Harold Larwood deliberately bowl short so that the ball was consistently arriving at high speed around the batsmen’s head and upper body. This was before they wore any protective gear and caused a great amount of bruising and injury though none career-ending. As a result, new rules were adopted limiting the number of bouncers that could be bowled per over but major injuries still occurred. With the adoption of protective gear, injuries became much rarer.
This latest death may prompt an investigation to see how helmets can be improved to provide greater protection. There may also be calls for further limitations on the use of the bouncer or even its elimination altogether.
Here is video of what happened to Hughes.