We were going to put an article on Phil Hughes up this week, but it just feels like everything has already been said. We agree with Martin Crowe’s article on cricinfo that hopefully this will take some of the agro out of the game. Only we would extend that hope to include both journalists and fans as well. The sort of baiting and abuse that has tarnished the last two Ashes series in particular have moved well beyond the realms of ‘banter’. It’s a bit rich to expect the players to behave better when many off the field are guilty of much the same behaviour.
We know it’s also probably a vain hope, but all the same we can’t help holding out the expectation that this might lead to a change in how Channel Nine, in particular, covers the game. Cricket as entertainment is now well entrenched, particularly in Australia, but the past week has shown that for a lot of people the sport is far more important than just another form of ‘entertainment’. A little more introspection and a little more respect for Australia’s opposition wouldn’t go amiss. Given everything that has happened, we are not really looking forward to having to put up with Michael Slater continue to wet himself on air in his excitement to tell us just how well Mitchell Johnson is bowling. There will be a lot of emotion surrounding the rest of the Australian summer, including the World Cup, and we hope that Nine recognises that it will not just be Australia’s cricketers who will be affected by it. We also hope that the sentimentality that is expressed does not veer into mawkishness. Nine does tend to overdo it at times. By which we mean pretty much all the time.
We also don’t think this accident should lead to drastic changes in how the game is played, particularly in regards to short pitched deliveries. We watched a bit of the game in question, although thankfully missed the point at which Hughes was hit, and Hughes had been well tested with short pitched deliveries by both Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Starc, two bowlers who are much quicker than Sean Abbott, up till that point. It had been noticeable, even at the time, that Hughes was choosing to avoid bouncers, rather than play at them. It was only later in the day, against a slower bowler with a much older ball that he seemingly opted to try and cash in on his earlier patience. So to argue that the modern player lacks the technique to cope with short pitched deliveries seems to us to be a little misguided.
Clearly, though, some changes do need to be made. One major difference in the modern game seems to be that fast bowlers are both generally taller and much fitter than in past eras, which enables them to achieve steepling bounce over far longer periods. Even in this year alone we’ve seen Stuart Broad, Ahmed Shehzad and Ben Rohrer all be hit in the head by short pitched deliveries. Changes in safety equipment will help, but perhaps further restrictions on bowlers bowling bouncers might be considered, even if only from a purely occupational health and safety perspective (yeah, that stuff). Banning the ball outright, though, would be ridiculous, as it would completely change how the game is played, and would require further drastic reforms elsewhere to try and preserve a balance between bat and ball. In the end, you can’t totally legislate against the danger of injury, as there will always be top edged pull shots or sweep shots.
Given there are now serious concerns about player safety it would be surprising if the legality of some close-in fielding positions weren’t reconsidered too. Although players being seriously injured there whilst wearing a helmet is a rare event, as we have seen helmets are no guarantee of safety (albeit the cause of death in Hughes’ case was an incredibly rare occurrence, in life, not just in cricket), and the tendency of players to turn their back when a big stroke is being played may well expose them to being hit in the same area that Hughes was. This is only compounded by the frequent tactic of sending in newly selected players to field in this position, who probably are completely unfamiliar with it, and its associated dangers.
Finally, we’d like to pay our respect to the New Zealand Test team. Not just because of how they conducted themselves in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy – refusing to bowl bouncers, refusing to place close-in fielders, and refusing to celebrate milestones – but also because they are turning into a genuinely excellent Test outfit. Pakistan have received a lot of plaudits over the past month or two, and it seems unfortunate that New Zealand’s own excellent performances will be overshadowed by events elsewhere. Granted its usually good fun to go out of your way to simply ignore anything and everything that comes out of New Zealand, but in this instance we think they deserve a great deal of respect. Even if we feel slightly dirty for saying so.