The recent tragic news that the Australian Cricketer, Phil Hughes has died as a result of a serious head injury following a "bouncer" or short bowled ball, is a stark reminder that helmets are vital, but that sportsmen also need to be vigilant and not become over reliant on their equipment.
Thankfully serious incidents are rare but, when playing at the highest level, the risk of injury is just as significant and cricketers need as much protection as possible, particularly when facing fast bowlers. Hughes was wearing a helmet but photographs show that he turned his head, evading the protection of the helmet. There has been a lot of debate in the press as to whether Hughes was wearing the most up to date helmet but regardless of whether he was or not, sportsmen and women can never be 100% protected, as to do so would inhibit their ability.
Helmets have not always been popular in cricket and it wasn’t really until the 1990’s that they became more common place. While they are not 100% guaranteed to protect you against any injury, they make a significant difference and players generally recover and return to their sport. The advent of the grille, which attaches to the helmet to help protect the face, has also been important in keeping injuries down. In 1986 Cricketer, Mike Gatting, was wearing a helmet without a grille and the impact of the ball ricocheting was so great that a piece of his bone was famously found in the leather of the ball as it returned to the bowler Malcolm Marshall.
In 2012 Mark Boucher was wearing a cap instead of a helmet when he was struck by the bail of the cricket stumps. He sustained severe injuries to his eye which has left him with significantly impaired vision and forced him to retire from the profession. There are also injuries where players have their helmets and grilles on but generally most players make a recovery and are able to return to their sport.
What is abundantly clear, and has been echoed by the President of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Anthony Cross, is that helmets do make a difference. Without them, the skull is extremely vulnerable and while they will not always prevent injury, they do significantly reduce the seriousness. Everyone would agree that a few cuts and bruises are preferable to a skull fracture and injury to the brain. Another cricketer, Ahmed Shehzad suffered a fractured skull just a fortnight ago but fortunately he has not had to undergo surgery and is recovering. This also highlights that urgent treatment is crucial and it is important that whether it be a school sports day or an international cricket match, medical assistance must always be on hand.
However, we also need to remind ourselves that whether you are the bowler or the batsman, protective equipment does not make us invincible.