Over the past few weeks we have been subjected to the unedifying spectacle of the coronial inquest into the tragic death of Phil Hughes, the young cricketer who was struck by a bouncer during a match, and later died from the injuries sustained from the blow.
I say unedifying not because there was an inquest, it is entirely appropriate that there was. If the accident had happened in a factory or a warehouse we would expect an investigation, and the cricket oval is a professional cricketer's workplace. They have as much right to occupational health and safety as anyone else. What I found a little distasteful is that the inquest seemed to operating with the objective of finding someone to blame for what seemed obvious to everyone was a tragic, one in a million, accident.
You cannot blame his parents for this, you can understand why they would be devastated. But, I felt for the players dragged up and interrogated—I think that all of them would have agonised over every moment of that match ever since. I wondered what point some of the questions served, and what lessons are going to be taken out of the whole exercise—and worry that it will be used as a reason to try and change things that don't need to be.
Much Ado about Sledging
There was also some heated examination of what might or not have been said to Hughes over the course of the day, whether he was told that he was going to get his head knocked off, or get killed. But, aside from compounding the guilt I am sure people were already wrestling with, what did that achieve? Does it matter what sledging there was?
I have made it clear in the past that I have little time for sledging—I much prefer banter between my own team to distract the batsman—but, while it might be in bad taste to threaten the batsmen, and contrary to the spirit of the game, no one on the ground ever takes that sort of thing seriously. There are lots of reasons to want to see sledging out of the game, but increasing the safety of players is not one of them.
Nor is there a point that has to be made about the need for better helmets. Even before this terrible accident, product manufacturers have been continually improving the equipment players use, and this has been the case for decades. They know that it is something that they should be continually be striving to improve, and if they forget, players will be quick to remind them.
The cricketers who competed in the World Series were some of the toughest players to walk out on a pitch, but no one begrudged David Hookes wearing an experimental helmet after he had his jaw broken, in fact it was quickly embraced by other players. This continues on constantly, there is already a helmet design being made to prevent the same injiury that killed Hughes—and was before the inquest even started!
One part of the game that did come under scrutiny was the role of short pitched bowling. I saw a number of articles discussing whether there should be more limitations on the amount of bouncers that can be bowled, or even whether they should be eliminated. To me, this would be massive mistake, and render the game unrecognisable.
Yes, there is an element of risk in batting. Anyone who has ever been hit by a cricket ball knows that you can get hurt. I have a scar on my chin from a cricket ball, and I have gone home from both training and the game covered in bruises after a working over from a fast bowler—and the bowlers I have faced would be hard pressed to get within 40kph of the bowlers on the international scene.
But, as with life, you can't eliminate all risk, and in fact the possibility of being hurt is what makes the contest between bat and ball so compelling. Without it, batting would simply become a technical exercise, the rote execution of certain motions. The greatest batsmen are not admired simply because of their technique, they are admired because of their courage. Both mental, to overcome pressure, and physical, to be willing to face up to the fastest of bowling.
To take away the bouncer would be the same as taking the tackle out of footy, or the punch out of boxing. Sure, you want to make sure that there are regulations to prevent its abuse, but I think we have the balance pretty right.
The Right Verdict
In the end, the inquest came to the right conclusion, that this was a tragic accident that everyone wishes hadn't happened. We want someone to be at fault, as we try and make sense of why bad things happen to people. It's understandable that people don't want this to happen ever again, and try and find ways to prevent such a sad loss.
But, blaming sledging or, more importantly, the bouncer is not the answer, and will do nothing more than destroy the game without solving anything. We need to ensure we take the right lessons from this tragedy, that living life involves risk and we have to make the most of our time here—because we never know when or where tragedy can strike.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html