An eerie thought —"this could have been me" crossed my mind the moment I watched the video of Phillip Hughes' injury. Most of us who've faced the racing ball charging at 140+ kmph have been hit, not once but several times. But each time either the helmet, the glove, or the bat has come in handy, thankfully.
Aakash Chopra fends a short delivery against Australia in Melbourne Test in 2003. Pic/Getty Images
There have been some pretty bad blows too, like when I was hit during the Boxing Day Test match and a physiotherapist had to be called in to check on me. Or when the ball punctured the wire gauge of my helmet and hit my eye during the finals of the Ranji Trophy 2012.
But luckily, I survived to tell the tale. Most batsmen who get hit on the head by a bouncer don't even lose their wicket. Here was a 25-year-old who lost his life. That is a freak accident. The ball eluded the helmet and hit the flesh and within moments Phillip fell on his face. But guess what — even that has happened in the past.
In fact, I distinctly remember Rahul Dravid getting hit by a Brett Lee bouncer in Sydney in 2004 at exactly the same spot as Hughes. In Rahul's case the ball deflected from his shoulder before hitting him under the right ear. Fortunately, there was a cut and he bled, for internal bleeding leads to a lot severe complications, like it did in Hughes' case.
As batsmen, we convince ourselves that a cricket ball can only leave you with a few bruises. That it had the potential to become a lethal weapon was a realisation that dawned upon us only last week. It also highlighted the fact that how oblivious we are, as cricketers, to the dangers we face.
I know for a fact that there is a particular brand of helmet that looks very good, is lighter and gives a clearer vision. But isn't the safest of them all. Still nine out of 10 batsmen continue to use the same brand of helmet even today.
The very same helmet...
I wore the same helmet when a Nathan Bracken bouncer hit my head during the Boxing Day Test in 2003. Rahul wore the same in Sydney and even Phil Hughes was wearing the same helmet. The belief that we are infallible forces us to choose comfort over safety. This approach might change now. It must.
Hughes' injury and his very unfortunate death reminded me of the fact that the playing field can never be a 100% safe. A player can wear as many protective gears and can also get the safest ones, yet there'll still be some areas of the body that expose themselves to danger.
I remember Avishkar Salvi bowling to Ricardo Powell in a game. Powell, as you'd remember, packed a punch and one of his hits down the ground found Salvi on the way. Salvi was still in his follow-through and the moment he looked up, the ball crashed into his throat. Now, that could have proven fatal too.
Also, the time I spent at short-leg dodging bullets was equally frightening. I remember a Matthew Hayden sweep ricocheting off my helmet but bouncing only once before crashing into the fence at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. At that time the only way to stay out of the harm's way was to duck and pray, and pray a little more.
While batting you think that you have a certain amount of control over the outcome but that's not the case at short-leg, for there you are completely on the batsman's mercy.
Hughes' death has been one of the most unfortunate and deeply saddening incidents in the sports world in the recent times. How each one of us wished he could survive that blow.
Somewhere deep down, each of us cricketers, who continue to play or have bid their goodbyes, said a little 'Thank You Lord'. If it could happen to Hughes, it could have happened to us. And that unnerving feeling just made us a bit more aware of the temporariness of life. For the spectators, it might put things in perspective, for the players put their life on the line, sometimes, to give them a good show.