I remember playing cricket when I was at school. I played decent wicket keeper and terrible batsman. I was small and ill-trained at batting. One game we played a local school and their lead bowler who played for the county took every wicket except until no.11 came out. He had 9 wickets for 0 runs! At the other end was one of the opening batsman, Matt Goode, now a relatively famous actor. Goodie won’t admit this but he spent the entire innings avoiding their demon, lead bowler.
I trotted out in my oversized pads and paddle-sized bat. Goodie gave me some advice but he must have known it was over. 3 balls later it still wasn’t and I’d scored 12 off their main man. He was almost in tears. At the end of the over, Goodie and I laughed together. I was eventually out for 14 and managed to hand my wicket to the other bowler.
Phil Hughes died this morning (European time) aged 25. He succumbed to his injury from two days ago. If you don’t know, Phil Hughes was a cricketer, an opening batsman for Australia and was struck by a rising ball at the top of his neck while playing for his state. Deaths don’t usually occur in cricket. This is the first I have heard of. Possibly in the past players could have died while on the field on a hot summer’s day. When I first saw cricket they were a bit tubby round the waist and long days in the field or batting must have taken their toll. But in the modern cricket, it’s possible to say this guys are genuine athletes so to see a death is unexpected.
This dismaying circumstance is also despite the adherence to modern protective measures and modern medicine. In the past, helmets were not common and bowling repeated bouncers was also common practice. You can understand how fearful players might have been back in the 1970s and 1980s when only donning a cap, they faced the might of the West Indies pacemen Joel Garner. Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding who bowled at around 90mph and legitimately aimed at the head to make the batsman leave their stumps unguarded or to palm it to the wicketkeeper or slips known as callously as Death Row.
My favourite cricketing memory involved the duel between Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath in a test series a few years ago when McGrath, the Australian pace bowler tried all manners of aggressive but legitimate tactics to get Lara, the masterful West Indian batsman, out, with Lara smiling his pearly whites throughout it, inviting it on and smashing anything he could around the ground. This is what makes cricket a great spectacle.
In Phil’s case, the ball missed his helmet and struck him at the top of his neck. This ruptured his artery which bled into his brain causing him to first black out and put massive pressure on the brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve the pressure but the internal damage was simply too much. It’s the kind of injury more often seen in car accidents but again there, it’s not common.
Before knowing of Phil’s death, the Economist talked of moral hazard, a concept more commonly known in economics. Essentially if you feel better protected, you take more risks, knowing you will probably be insulated from the worst effects. Whether this moral hazard is true in cricket I doubt. Cricket is an one of the most individualistic team games out there. Batsman face bowlers alone. Bowlers have strategies developed with the team but essentially it’s a duel. However the culture of a team is there and no one wants to give their wicket away cheaply.
I lived in my cricketing day some glory at a sport I have never really cared for. Phil lived a lot more glorious days than I and would never expect to go out on the field. We never do but in that gladiatorial duel, Phil won more than he lost. RIP