The safety of cricket

A spate of horrendous injuries suffered on the field of play of late has called into question the adequacy of the safety of cricket. Philip Hughes’s tragic death, struck on the neck by a bouncer, has focussed more keenly the attention given to on field incidents.

Crowds love to see big hitting, but how long before a spectator gets seriously injured by a ball flying into the crowd?

Crowds love to see big hitting, but how long before a spectator gets seriously injured by a ball flying into the crowd?

I was at Arundel yesterday, to watch Sussex take on Surrey in the T20 Blast competition, when two Surrey fielders, Rory Burns and Moises Henriques, collided so violently as to render both unconscious and require the urgent arrival of paramedics and three ambulances. Spinal boards, oxygen tanks and ambulances have no place on any sporting field and it was uncomfortable viewing seeing the stricken pair attended to across the field. The anguish on the faces of the teammates added to the unfolding of an uneasy story; there was unanimous relief as the pair were eventually lifted into the ambulances, waving to the crowd as they went. It was, in some small way, a happy ending to a harrowing tale.

Is it acceptable, though, to label the incident, caused by two men colliding whilst attempting to take the same catch, as ‘one of those things’? Everyone present remarked that they had never seen anything like it. It was a ‘freak’ accident.

That was how Hughes’s accident was reported; it was a ‘freak’. That’s no consolation to the man’s family and friends. Cricket mourned. Helmet manufacturers have responded by introducing an extension to existing designs which covers the neck where Hughes was struck. It was reactionary.

What will be the reaction to the injuries sustained by Henriques and Burns? Can we accept the incident in its relative isolation? Should we accept it? What about those recreational players who have sustained similar injuries? What can the laws of the game do to protect all cricketers?

It is a tricky dilemma with no obvious answer. Henriques and Burns were both giving their all for the cause of winning a game for Surrey. Their miscommunication was brought about by a singular desire to catch a cricket ball. The collision looked inevitable from a way off; you thought Burns, dashing in from the deep, would see that Henriques was running backwards with no view of what was behind him, and withdraw from the attempted catch. It was soon clear that he wasn’t and both men extended their arms in anticipation of making the catch, sliding into each other at full pace. They lay motionless beside one another as those on the field frantically gestured for assistance for the pair.

There is no obvious answer to avoiding that scenario occurring again. But that doesn’t make it okay, either. Rule changes would dramatically alter the game; an infielder not being allowed to take catches whilst running backwards, or umpires being able to call a dead ball to fielders if a collision looks likely? Imperfect (and rubbish) solutions. This does not mean cricket should sit back and wait for more injuries, though.

Another area of concern is the spectators. The frequency and length of six hitting has reached previously unfathomable heights. The balls are sailing into the crowd with alarming velocity towards people who are not professional cricketers and, therefore, are not well placed to avoid or catch the ball struck towards them.

We all marvel at a massively hit six, but how long before someone in the crowd gets seriously hurt? The thought crossed my mind at Arundel yesterday as a plethora of children played beyond the boundary rope. There are also those casual spectators present, too. My wife, for example, is not a fervent cricket fan, but was enjoying a day out to celebrate a friend’s birthday yesterday. Should a cricket ball fly in her direction, I’m quite sure she would not come out of the incident well.

There are a number of safety concerns that need answering. The horrific collision between Henriques and Burns should serve as a wakeup call as regards the safety of fielders and action should be taken to protect spectators before something very serious indeed occurs.

By Miles Reucroft

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