By Sudat Pasqual –
The death of Philip Hughes caused by the impact of a bouncer while batting has started, it seems, an exploratory campaign by some to question the validity of keeping the bouncer as a legitimate delivery in cricket. Considering the horror of the incident, it is somewhat understandable the sentiment to take the bouncer out of cricket. Proponents of the ban argue that there is only one purpose to a bouncer; to hurt or maim a batsman. They say aiming for an opponent’s head maybe acceptable in boxing and ice hockey but not in cricket. Critics also say that even though the odds of a batsman dying as a result of getting hit by a bouncer is infinitesimal, the fact that tens of thousands of games of cricket is played across the globe each year and that number is likely to keep increasing substantially will raise the chance of a repeat of a Hughes’ type of incident. That argument is logical. Some have also suggested making the bouncer less bouncy. That is to amend the rules of the game to make balls bouncing above shoulder height of the batsman illegal. If these changes are implemented, the chance of a repeat of the Hughes incident will likely reduce. Cricket might become safer for batsman, but what will such a change do the game as a whole?
Those who have played the game competitively and those who love the game for its elegance of stroke play and traditions of civility also understand that the game of cricket has a raw physical side to it as well. Just as the delicate late cut of The Don could be admired and enjoyed by all, so could the lightning fast short pitched delivery bowled by a poker faced Michael Holding that rears at the batsman’s throat making him either take a panicked evasive action or take the willow to the ball in a counter-aggressive manner. Who amongst us who have seen clips of diminutive Alvin Kallicharran with his shirt unbuttoned almost to the navel, bare headed and front foot off the ground repeatedly hooking fearsome Dennis Lillee bouncers at the inaugural World Cup in 1975 will say that they didn’t secretly wish that they had a bit of Kalli in them? Who amongst us who have seen the footage of 45 year old bare headed Brian Close taking the ball on his body over and over from the fearsome West Indian pace battery of Holding, Roberts and Daniel for almost 3 hours can say that they were not inspired by the unadulterated bull-headed courage of the man? Is there anyone who was not moved to tears or close to when watching footage of Australian Rick McCosker batting with his fractured jaw held together by swatches of bandage at the Centenary Test of 1977? These acts cannot be compared on the same scale, but they are nevertheless what make Cricket such an intriguing and inspiring human experiment. Kallicharran’s exuberant extravagance and Close and McCosker’s gallantry and defiance would not have come into play if not for the existence of the bouncer and modern Cricket would be without three of its most cathartic sequences.
The negative aspect of the bouncer will forever be etched in the minds of some because of what happened to Philip Hughes on that fateful day. Detractors of the bouncer will, rightfully say that Cricket must do all it can to prevent a repeat of such a tragic act.
Indeed Cricket should do all it can to make the game safer; without resorting to banning the bouncer.
In the last few decades, Cricket has made adjustments to make the game safer for those who play the game. If Brian Close were batting today, he would have the option of wearing a helmet, chest guard, thigh guard, abdominal guard, inner thigh pad and an arm guard. Brian Close the obdurate might turn them down as unnecessary and lily-livered, but the choice would be his. Ditto for Rick McCosker. Also, cricket pitches of today are covered from the elements during off play times unlike the days of Close and company and as a result are more batsmen friendly. It is also likely that helmet manufacturers will use the Hughes incident to make helmet more protective.
Considering, removing the bouncer from Cricket is unnecessary and would do irreparable harm to the game. If a child swimming in a public pool drowned as a result of a previously unknown heart ailment, would it be reasonable to demand the government to close all public pools?