Fearsome foursome struck fear into hearts
We pause this week to take a more global reflection on the cricket arena.
Undoubtedly, those of us who consider ourselves fanatics of the game would be cognisant of the death of Phillip Hughes. This young Australian batsman was in the prime of his life when he died two days after being struck by a bouncer.
The only consolation is that he died while representing his state team in the game that he cherished, the lovely game of cricket. So often referred to as, “the gentlemen's' game”, this untimely and tragic occurrence has led to several questions:
• How will the ICC hierarchy react to this event?
• Will there be further restrictions put on bowlers?
• Will companies come out with a new style of head gear?
• Could we see helmets made mandatory against fast bowling?
Spare a thought for Sean Abbott, the bowler, who in bowling the bouncer was only doing what countless bowlers have done before.
I can't help but think of the 1980s and early 1990s. I recall going to a Test match between the West Indies and England. The West Indies team, captained by Viv Richards, had a four-prong pace attack, which included Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson. They were aggressive and very fast.
To see David Gower have his helmet knocked clean off his head by a Garner delivery was astonishing. Any batsman who claims they enjoy batting against such relentless pace is either foolish or fearless.
Recalling my experience playing for Bermuda in the Red Stripe in Jamaica; Jamaica had the likes of Courtney Walsh, Patterson and Franklyn Rose who on their day bowled anywhere between 85mph and 90mph. If you know anything about West Indies bowlers, you know they love to bowl short to try to intimidate you.
Patterson was by far the quickest of the trio and on his day he was one of the fastest in the West Indies and possibly the world. The first over I faced against him I received at least three bouncers, two of which whizzed passed my helmet.
At the end of the over I remember talking to my batting partner at the other end saying, “next over it's going to be me or him, as I am not going to stand here and let him bowl bouncers at me all day.” Every time he bounced me, I attempted to hook him. I guess he saw that I wasn't intimidated, as he started to bowl a fuller length, which played to my strength.
It's times like this when batsmen have to get tough and display mental toughness to battle through, but it is always a dangerous thing to do. One cannot forget the same England tour, as mentioned earlier, when Mike Gatting received a bouncer from Malcolm Marshall in a one-day international that broke his nose.
The only batsman that I have ever seen walk to the wicket to face express bowling without a helmet was the great Sir Viv Richards.
He walked to the wicket with a swagger like no other. It was this demeanour that helped to establish him as one of the all-time greats. Fearless, and aggressive, was Richards, as he fought fire with fire.
Some years ago at Cup Match in Somerset some team-mates of mine thought they would be like Richards and bat without a helmet against Roger Blades, the Somerset fast bowler. Blades at that time was one of, if not, the quickest bowlers on the Island.
Early on the second day he struck Glenn Blakeney on the head with a bouncer, and before he could even get out of Somerset in the ambulance, Blades had struck another batsman, Eugene Foggo, on the head sending him to hospital also. Fortunately, both of these batsmen were lucky and didn't suffer any major injury, but they could have as neither one of them wore a helmet.
Blades was quoted in The Royal Gazette the next day: “I was happy to see both of them return, and it was good to see them come back fighting which was good for the game. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt.”
Too often batsmen, including myself, get stuck in and feel comfortable out in the middle, and remove their helmet because they feel they are on top of the bowling. I had to learn the hard way that this is not always the best approach.
Having just scored 50 runs in a Cup Match in St George's I removed my helmet and put on my cap. The very next over I was struck on my forehead with a bouncer sending me sprawling to the ground. Immediately, I feared for my life, and since that day I swore to always wear a helmet, even if it is against spin bowling.
The way cricket has evolved these days one can never be too safe. The gear is out there to protect you, from a cup, to pads, helmet, bat, chest guard, arm guards, and the rest. Bowlers worldwide are bowling faster than ever, so the need to be protected is a necessity.
Unfortunately, Phillip Hughes wasn't as lucky as some others have been, but it was to no fault of his own as he had a helmet on for protection. It just goes to show you that one can never be too safe. Hopefully, others will realise the dangers of the game and always wear the proper head gear regardless of the situation.
It was fitting that in this week's Test match between Australia and India, that David Warner, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke, the Australia batsmen, all scored centuries, dedicating them to their late team-mate. Smith took off his helmet and began walking towards the boundary rope, strolling all the way to where a giant “408” was painted on the grass in memory of Hughes, who was the 408th man to play Test cricket for Australia.
The following words were spoken by Australian captain Michal Clarke at Phillip Hughes funeral: “Phillip's spirit is now part of our game forever, it will act as a custodian of the game we all love … and we must listen to it, we must cherish it and we must learn from it. We must dig in and get through to tea and we must play on. So rest in peace my little brother, I will see you out in the middle.”
And did he ever, fighting a back injury that caused him to retire hurt Clarke would not be denied. As he returned to the crease and went on to score a century.
Surely Hughes was out in the middle, gone, but not forgotten.