Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Balance In Protection

We heard more developments today with the story I touched on yesterday.

RIP Phil Hughes. Thoughts are with your family, friends and team mates.

I've updated yesterday's post a little bit. I wrote it hoping that he'd recover. Always hope for the best right ? But that mouse pic was in poor taste considering what's happened, so it's gone.

There's going to be a lot of uninformed chat now about cricket and other sports and the protection gear involved with them. I really hope they don't change much with cricket as a consequence of this truly freak accident.

The game doesn't need to change and would be irreparably harmed if it were. The attitudes, perhaps, are what need a little more awakening :

If you make the ball softer, nobody is happy. The batsmen can't hit it as far and the bowlers get in a huff because it doesn't do anything. That would lead to a much more boring game for little added safety.
Covering the people with padding. I'll talk about that more in a bit. Cricket needs agility as well as protection and more protection means less agility.

Attitudes - this is the key. And I'm aiming my blunderbuss at people like MS Dhoni, captain of India. Yes. I'm going to flame someone who has near godlike status ... He's a prime example of someone who doesn't wear a helmet when batting against slower bowlers. As my own experience tells, this is a Really Bad Idea. All 3 times I've been hit were similarly freak incidents involving top edges. If you get a top edge, it doesn't matter what speed the bowler hits. And it's possibly more likely to get one against the slower bowler who is turning the ball through spin.

A helmet should be worn at all times it's appropriate :
Any time when batting;
When the wicket keeper is standing up (cases of Mark Boucher and Paul Downton who had severely damaged eyes due to the bails flying up into them and Mark Boucher was wearing a helmet at the time)
Close fielding.

There is other protection gear too. Let's see what was available and why I did or didn't wear it :

Shin pads - I'd have worn these in certain situations if I had them. Problem - they slow you down, I'd lose my only asset, Speed. But if I was fielding close, I'd wear them.

Knee pads - I wore these for two reasons. One was that my leg muscles were so much more powerful than my knees could handle, so I'd wear them to stop my knees exploding. The second was that they gave me a little protection for when my tendency to get in the way instead of cleanly fielding ended up in me wearing cricket balls. But ... I wore knee pads that still allowed that all important agility.

Thigh pads for batting - One of my mum's colleagues fractured a femur when batting when I was in my teens. He had an ultra long recovery time and a thigh pad (a small pillow stuffed down the trousers) may have saved him from that. I only wore one of these once in practice and it slowed me down so much, I was getting pinned on the leg even more. I basically couldn't bat effectively because feet that didn't move anyway, moved less. So I was worse batting and more likely to get hurt.

This is a key thing - the best way to avoid being hit is to not be in the way. And the more protection you wear, the less able you are to be able to get out of the way.

The box and the batting gloves - always wore these. It's silly not to. They don't impede you in any way (unless a previous wearer ruins them with sweat - and you are allowed to go "EEEEoooo !" at that and it's why I refused to lend mine out) and they give you basic protection. A ball to the groin will still hurt like hell and if you trap a finger between bat and ball, it'll probably break but ... if it's a glancing blow then they give that basic protection.

Chest protection - again, never used one of these. I believed they'd slow me down like the thigh pad did.and that they'd lead to me being hit more often.

Arm guard - I've got a chip out of my elbow and was wearing a makeshift arm guard at the time. I've also had a smashed watch where a ball hit it. Both times, the ball missed the arm guard (a small shin pad in a sock) despite the arm guard having good coverage. Again, the best defence is not to be in the way and technique teaches you to drop the arms and hands down and sway out of the way. The two hits were when the ball bounced way more than it should have ...

Helmet - I didn't wear one of these until the Nose Job incident and I'm glad I converted. They don't slow your head down too much and give that protection again. There's a limited amount they can cover though. You have to be able to fully turn your head and they can't impede jerking the head out of the way, or your hearing. So a motorbike style crash helmet isn't an option. Keeper's helmets are actually different because of the angle a keeper's head tends to be.

There's a limited size a cricket helmet can be, consider that a batsman could be wearing these for a whole 2 hour (+ extra time) session with three of those in a day. I've worn one for 19 overs (hour and a half) and it felt like my head was going to explode after that.

And - from what I understand of the Phil Hughes incident, a helmet with more coverage wouldn't have helped anyway, as it missed the helmet and hit the neck. Even keeping to the proper technique of watching the ball all the way wouldn't have helped. I see close fielders spinning out of the way so a ball would hit them on the back - that's really silly (but understandable) because they're exposing bits without armour to the ball.

The summary is that point I made earlier :

The best way to avoid being hit is to not be in the way.

And in cricket, you do that by being super agile. The fielder will catch the ball or get out of the way. The batsmen will dodge or sway. That's why I stopped bowling, with the problems in my action the ball would follow a batsman swaying out of the way.

I think I got my balance of protection about right. I did get pinned on the legs a few times but it just gave me heavy bruising. The muscle mass protected the bone. I caught a few on the knees, which the padding mostly absorbed. The helmet actually improved my batting (it let me level my eyes) and I kept on batting after being hit on the grille. I never got hit in the ribs because I always got out of the way or hit the ball.

Still - to be of any use, that protection has to be worn. And I still see a few players who refuse to wear helmets. There's the MS Dhoni up top, there's Sarah Taylor, legend England keeper. She's the best keeper in the world, including the men. She doesn't wear keeping pads, they'd slow her down and her glovework is more than adequate to save her legs. She doesn't wear a helmet despite standing up to the stumps most of the time and I saw her get hit by a glancing blow in the last series shown. She's not just a keeping legend, she's a Very Pretty Lady and I'd hate to see those looks spoiled by a cricket ball impact.

But ... it's that balance of protection again, she believes the loss of visibility with a helmet would lead to her being hit.

It's always personal preference what level of protection you wear. And that goes beyond cricket. I see motorbike riders wearing jeans and trainers. If they come off, they'll be shredded. And that's not just a "it's too hot in leathers" because they're still doing that in cold conditions.

I've rambled on enough already I think ...

The level of protection is a personal preference. It shouldn't be made part of the laws of a game. That said, the top players should set a good example for the kids and I think a few fail there.

But not Phil Hughes - he did everything right but still fell victim to something totally freak.

Thoughts are with family, friends and team mates - we lost a good one there.

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