Piers Morgan was subject to pace bowling from Australia cricketer Brett Lee during the Melbourne Ashes Test last year. After the Phillip Highes incident, let's hope such stunts are not repeated, writes Michael Jeh
Brisbane: Okay, so picture this... journalist criticises touring batsmen for not being able to handle the heat of Australian fast bowlers. The journalist may have a point but is no cricketer himself. So local television broadcaster organises for one of the world's quickest bowlers to bowl to him in the nets as lunchtime entertainment during the Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Piers Morgan acknowledges the crowd after facing deliveries from former Australia cricketer Brett Lee (r) as commentator Mark Nicholas looks on during the Melbourne Ashes Test last year. Pic/Getty Images
This bowler thunders in, makes no attempt to have his front foot behind the line and deliberately targets the body of the hapless cricket writer who is backing away to square leg and keeps getting pounded by 150kph missiles. The host commentators are heard laughing and giggling in the background whilst members of the Australian team watch on in amusement. Impossible right? Fanciful huh? Couldn't happen. Wouldn't happen.
Not knowing what we know now about cricket balls and lethal accidents. It might happen as part of the actual game between skilled participants but not as part of a circus pantomime. No TV producer would allow this to go to air. No commentator (ex-cricketer) would agree to be part of this macabre joke, being fully aware that someone could possibly die. No self-respecting fast bowler would take pleasure in bowling deliberate no-balls at 150kph at an unskilled middle-aged man who has no batting skills whatsoever.
Unthinkable. Ridiculous. Whose daft idea of entertainment was this? This concept will never float, weighed down by the tears flowing downstream from Macksville. Do me a favour — google Brett Lee vs Piers Morgan and see what comes up on You Tube. Do me another favour —watch the footage and tell me that it's for real.
One last favour — look at all the people involved in the skit, the ex-cricketers (now commentators), the TV crew, the producer, the current Test cricketer in the background giggling at the carnage. Did they all shed tears last week for their mate? Did they offer moving eulogies and touching tributes? Will the TV station run a series of heart-warming, heart-breaking farewells for Phillip Hughes during this summer's Test series?
Everything seems so much clearer in hindsight but some things need not be that way. To put on a show that pits one of the fastest bowlers in the history of the game, trying to deliberately hit an utterly incompetent journalist to the cackling of Test greats (who should know better) simply defies belief.
To make an uneven contest even more unfair, Lee could not even bring himself to bowl a legal delivery. If the point had to be made, all he had to do was steam in, coil for a thunderbolt and then lob a gentle half-volley at middle stump to rub home the humiliation of Morgan who by now was trampling the square leg's umpire's toes. But no - the TV producers, commentators, Lee and Morgan himself agreed to be part of a ridiculous stunt that proved nothing and risked everything.
At the time of the incident, I questioned the sense of it in the strongest possible terms in my ESPN Cricinfo column but was roundly shouted down for not having a sense of humour. Let's ask those same critics if, knowing what they know now, know what they should have known regardless of the Hughes tragedy, if they still stand by those criticisms. The million-dollar question; if you had your time again this year, would you do the same thing?
It's inconceivable to think back to when Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell were anchoring the host TV broadcast and imagine them agreeing to this sort of buffoonery. In that era, they relied on old-fashioned gimmicks like dissecting the cricket and analysing tactics.
These next few weeks will throw up some interesting contradictions as Test cricketers, commentators and TV broadcasters attempt to find that balance between competitive cricket, maudlin nostalgia, genuine sadness and aggression that crosses the line. Some will argue that Hughes changed the way cricket is played forever. It shouldn't have to. Play it hard, play it fast, play to win but most of all, play it fair. That's the ultimate honour we can pay #408.
Michael Jeh is a former first-class cricketer