Thursday, November 27, 2014

RIP Phil Hughes and some thoughts on his passing

So sad to hear that Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died following a blow to the head by a cricket ball. A cricket ball travelling at ninety miles an hour is a dangerous thing but the huge advances in protective equipment worn by players makes such occasions incredibly rare. But if you have never cradled a cricket ball in your hand you ought to. It is a very solid projectile. One once broke my ankle. I look down at the scar between the fingers of my right hand where a ball split the webbing. I caught it though.

I have been pretty focused on the Old Testament for the last few months. Morning Prayer lectionary readings took us through 1 and 2 Samuel then 1 and 2 Kings. My church has been studying Exodus and my small home group, Genesis.

Many people observe dramatic differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. I observe dramatic differences between the people of the Old and the people of the New (and the people of today). A collection of books (which the Bible is) containing stories spanning two millennia will inevitably show some major cultural change.

The sport of the Middle Bronze Age was war. You tested your strength against the neighbours in a time when land boundaries were being stretched, established and fixed.

What does Goliath say to David? Not much more than 'Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.'

Saul has killed his thousands
David his tens of thousands

This too is a football chant.

Our leader is better than the King.

The sport of kings is a description often made of hunting pursuits. The Romans fixed combat as a sport by building huge stadia in which people gathered to watch warriors try to kill each other. Combat, jousting and contact team games are all anteceded by warfare.

We have moved on. We (by which I mean society) still like team games and one-on-one competition. Boxing and wrestling are the two where the focus is most on hurting each other but subtle rules make sure the pain is limited and the potential damage minimal. But boxers are maimed and die from time to time.

Rugby has an unbelievable care for rules and opponent. Witness the huddles after games of mutual appreciation. But when the whistle blows there is much made of the 'big hit'. Hugely perfected physiques try very hard to stop each other with extremely violent blocks and tackles. American football is the culmination of this process; guys hit each other much harder than they otherwise would because their own protective clothing becomes not a defensive matter but a shock-absorber which allows them to thud and crunch into each other with greater power, velocity and personal safety.

Football also has its nuances. It is often forgotten that page one of the introduction to the game specifies that football is not a physical contact sport but the nature of the game makes some physical contact inevitable. And we are discovering that brain injuries caused by heading an old water-soaked case-ball were more common than we thought. (See the 'Justice for Jeff' campaign re the West Brom striker who died relatively young, probably as a result of heading footballs too often.)

But cricket is complex. Much is made of the failure of outsiders to understand the rules and subtleties. But when a fast bowler has, in his armoury, the possibility of projecting the ball at great speed at the opponent's head, deliberately, you have to say that this will only serve to intimidate or unnerve the opponent if it carries with it the prospect of serious injury or death. Hard to imagine that players used to face such a barrage without helmets but I am old enough to remember the days.

So, did Phil Hughes die because of a failure of protective equipment? Possibly, and it may be the case that even more protection will be offered. But this will greatly increase the weight of a helmet and may make avoiding the ball harder.

No. Phil Hughes died because part of the game of cricket, and some other games, involves trying to kill each other. It rarely happens but it is a possibility. It is sad but true. I am sure he knew the risk. Combating a dangerous bowler who was trying to maim him was part of the attraction.

I wonder if the bowler will be wanting to try and kill again though? Because if that's not what he's trying to do, why aim at the head?


Rich R said...

"I wonder if the bowler will be wanting to try and kill again though? Because if that's not what he's trying to do, why aim at the head?"

To tempt him to hook? To intimidate him? To bowl to a particular field placing? To bowl a dot ball? He didn't hit him on the head anyway. I don't know any sport that involves intending to kill people. Although there is always the chance of dying of boredom if you watch the 6 nations rugby...

David Beales said...

Helmets have undoubtedly made cricket a safer game. However, one of the great skills of batting used to be the avoidance of bouncers,enhanced by the instinct for self preservation- for English batsmen, particularly in the 1974-75 Ashes tour when Lillee and Thomson were at their fastest (although, it has to be said, Tony Grieg bowled the first bouncer at them!). In the Centenary Test of 1977 at the MCG, Derek Randall ducked and weaved away from Dennis Lillee's bouncers on his way to 174 in a heroic innings. Rick McCosker was slightly less skillful and returned to batting with a broken jaw. Batting coaches today must encourage the skill of bouncer avoidance while simultaneously keeping eyes on the ball.