The tragic death of Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has raised serious questions over the safety of players in the sport, with calls for improvements in safety equipment coming in the aftermath of one of the darkest days in cricket history.
While technological advancements have brought the sport forward in the modern day, are there any rules that could be adapted and modified to help protect those at the crease from being seriously injured or even killed.
We take a look at six things that could be considered.
Option 1: Ban bouncers
Rules have already been introduced to reduce the number of bouncers allowed in a single over, with the ICC ruling that only one bouncer may be bowled per over per batsman in Test and Twenty20 cricket and two in One-Day Internationals. However, despite the reduction in how many bouncers are allowed in a game, batsmen are still being hit in the chest and head area, such as England’s Stuart Broad who suffered a broken nose earlier this year. Banning bouncers completely would eliminate the risk of being hit in the head barring any extraordinary circumstances, and would reduce the danger posed to the batsman when he has a near-100mph ball thrown in his direction.
Bouncers have been widely accepted as part of the game and are the root of the aggression and intimidation tactics that gives the sport its edge. Removing it completely would take one of the best parts of cricket out of the game, which wouldn’t sit too well with fans as well as veterans of the game that had to face much worse during their hay-day. While no one wants to see a batsman get hurt, it’s often a bouncer that stokes up the atmosphere both on and off the field, with batsman either electing to take on the bowler or duck out of the way in fear.
Option 2: Larger helmets
Hughes was hit on the back low left area of the head, one of the few vulnerable areas that the helmet doesn’t cover. There is an argument to extend the length of protection that cricket helmets offer to protect the area surrounding the back of the head and neck, which becomes vulnerable when playing hook and sweep shots if the batsman doesn’t keep their head straight. While helmets aren’t 100 per cent bullet-proof, they offer a substantial amount of protection that significantly reduces the risk of injury, and increasing those safety levels wouldn’t be a bad thing.
We already know that Hughes was wearing an old version of the recommended helmet, and a new version is due to be introduced in English country cricket next season. A new version of the Masuri helmet that Hughes was wearing is said to offer more protection to the back of the head and neck area, which would help when being hit by the ball.
Option 3: Change the ball colour
A definitive colour for cricket balls could make them more visible for batsman given they are thrown at such high speeds. A red ball is currently used for Test cricket as is tradition, but a white ball is now the common sight in ODI cricket given the day/night matches that now feature on the schedule. Some matches have experimented with a pink ball that is believed offers more visibility for batsmen, while a big fuss is usually made when there is movement behind the bowlers arm or if the sight screen is not in the right place.
It’s not been proven whether the pink ball is more visible than the red one, and it has also had its controversy despite only being experimented with so far. A domestic match in Australia that used the pink ball forced national team opener Chris Rogers to sit out the game because he’s colour blind. Orange balls have also been trialled with limited success. The problem here lies in that no two balls are exactly the same, given that they are made up of layers of cork which is then usually covered in cowhide leather. Getting different balls to act the same is difficult in itself, and that’s before you start tinkering with the colour.
Option 4: Smaller run-up
Giving bowlers less space to get up to speed would theologically result in slower balls. This would give batsman longer to see the ball, decide on which shot to play and execute it, thus reducing the danger of not being able to either hit the ball of get out of the way in time. Less speed on the ball would also reduce the height that bowlers can produce with bouncers, although balls would still be able to reach chest height with considerable speed.
Bowlers would be highly unlikely to be in favour of such a ruling given that the Hughes incident was such a freak occurrence. All of them will have learnt their bowling motion that is based on how long their run-up is, and changing that would lead to a complete overhaul of their action. The effect of such a change would also be questioned, given the stronger bowlers would still be able to generate considerable pace just from their swing, rather than an excessive run-up.
Option 5: Fewer balls in an over
Facing fewer balls in an over would see batsman face less balls in a day and – in theory – rotate the strike more often. Given that fatigue can play a large part in batsmen being hit as their reaction time increases, it would give them a bit more time to recover in between overs and keep them fresh and alert for each ball in an effort to avoid being hit.
Changing the number of balls in an over would be a big U-turn on traditional cricket, and it would also see the amount of playing times fans get to view reduced drastically. If each over was reduced by just a single ball, fans would lose 15 overs of play a day based on the 90 overs-a-day rule. There would also be questions raised over whether batsman would have more time to recover in between overs, and the time between balls would likely remain unchanged.
Option six: Soften pitches
The tracks in Australia are notorious for being hard and fast, which allows fast-pace bowlers to fizz the ball through and zip around a batsman’s head. We saw in the last Ashes Series what Mitchell Johnson could do with the ball when he was given a hard and bouncy pitch to play with. The onus would be on the ground staff to prepare a slightly softer pitch and take out some of the bounce, which would help batsman dal with the unpredictable nature of some pitches they face.
Australia have made a name for themselves of bowling hard and fast and it has been a tactic they’ve utilised for many, many years. It would negate the home advantage that teams use to prepare a track that suits them. England have long used green pitches to favour their swing attack, while Australia have favoured a harder pitch that creates a lot of bounce.