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Will cricket be the same after the Phillip Hughes tragedy?

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Tue, Dec 2, 2014

The tragic death of the young Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, incidentally a “country boy,” the son of a banana farmer from rural new South Wales, after being hit by a bouncer whilst batting, has caused shock not just in the cricketing world; it has had ripples far beyond its cricketing boundaries.{{more}}

It is not often that athletes die as a direct cause of an on-field incident, so for that reason alone, the world was bound to sit up and take notice. Even in the cricketing Caribbean, with our long tradition of so-called “fearsome” fast bowlers, the death of a batsman following a hit from a bouncer has created shock-waves. Not since the Indian opener Nari Contractor, who was sent into a coma after being hit by a Charlie Griffith bouncer in 1962, has such an incident aroused this level of concern.

As SEARCHLIGHT joins with the rest of the international community in offering our condolences to the family and cricketing colleagues of the late cricketer, we also ask that we all spare a thought for the other unfortunate individual involved, the fast bowler Sean Abbott. He is a youngster, three years Hughes’ junior, who is doing his best to gain national honours. Just imagine his thoughts of undeserved guilt for being the one who delivered the fatal “missile.” It cannot be easy for him and his career from here on.

The said Charlie Griffith had to endure much vilification from the international press following the Contractor incident, including allegations of “chucking.” He had to live with a virtual “demon” image, especially when he teamed up with Wes Hall, wreaking havoc against England (1963) and Australia in the Caribbean two years later. It was to be the precursor to an unprecedented smear campaign against Caribbean pacemen, particularly when the West Indies dominated world cricket, even likening our pace quartet to the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

Those hate campaigns were based on international rivalries. Fortunately, the Hughes incident was in a domestic game, thus avoiding the international repercussions. Can you imagine if Hughes had been felled by a bouncer in a tight test match by a West Indian fast bowler? Nevertheless, it has cast a shadow over not just the upcoming India-Australia series, but over international cricket as a whole.

The big question being asked is, will international cricket ever be the same again? Hand in hand with this question is speculation about the legality and use of bouncers in the game. Just as in the heyday of the Caribbean pacemen, the possible banning of bouncers, or at least further limiting their use, has been mooted in some quarters. However, the chief executive of the International Cricket Conference (ICC) has publicly said that this is “very unlikely.” Bouncers are, and will remain, very much a part of the game.

One area attracting a lot of attention is the use and design of the safety helmets worn by players. While these provide protection to players, there is debate as to the need to re-design to give even greater protection. On the other hand, the mobility and comfort of players have to be taken into consideration.

These two areas, the use of bouncers and helmets, are likely to dominate the conversation in the wake of the Hughes tragedy. But, importantly, another aspect of the game is being put under scrutiny, that is the justification of all kinds of methods to “win at all costs.” Bowling bouncers as a legitimate part of the fast bowler’s armoury is all in good faith, but should it be accompanied by threats and “sledging”?

The most apt comment in this regard has come from former New Zealand ace batsman Martin Crowe. Himself no stranger to painful knocks from bouncers or nasty words in “sledging,” Crowe has said that above all, the best contribution to the future of the game is “to show the youth of today the right way to play the game, respectfully, hard and fair.” He urged that there is need “to take out the angst and hate, sledging and media bias.”

We conclude on that note.

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