Sydney: Phillip Hughes' death from head injuries has reopened the decades-old debate on how batsmen can be protected from a hard, five-and-a-half ounce projectile travelling around 90 miles per hour.
"Well, it's obviously a concerning issue," said Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland at a news conference Thursday. "Helmets are continually upgraded and reviewed. That will no doubt happen. "The relevant manufacturers and medical experts will do that again in the fullness of time, but, as I say, right now, it's all about providing as much support as we can to those closest to Phillip."
The 25-year-old Australia international died on Thursday, two days after being struck down at the Sydney Cricket Ground, illustrating starkly the dangers of facing fast bowling.
Despite wearing protective headgear, Hughes never regained consciousness and died from his injuries after trying to play a short-pitched "bouncer" in a domestic match and being hit on an unshielded area at the base of his skull.
Australian team doctor Peter Brukner said that Hughes had been killed by a "freakish" injury. "I think in this instance, this was a freakish accident because it was an injury to the neck that caused haemorrhage in the brain," said Brukner.
"The condition is incredibly rare. It's called vertebral artery dissection leading to subarachnoid haemorrhage -- only 100 cases were ever reported. "Yes, we certainly need to review all our procedures and equipment, but this is an incredibly rare type of injury." Masuri, the British-based manufacturer of the helmet worn by Hughes, and one of the leading suppliers of protective headgear to the world's top batsmen, said his injuries were in an area that is difficult to protect.
"From the footage and pictures currently available to Masuri, it appears that Phil Hughes was struck by the ball to the rear of the grille and below the back of the shell," Masuri said in a statement. "This is a vulnerable area of the head and neck that helmets cannot fully protect, while enabling batsmen to have full and proper movement."
The question of how batsmen should protect themselves from a blow on the head is not a new one. - Ban the bouncer? - Patsy Hendren, the Middlesex and England batsman, briefly wore a reinforced, multiple-peaked cap made for him by his wife in 1933 following England's infamous 'Bodyline' tour of Australia in 1932/33 that featured short-pitched, hostile bowling. It never caught on and for more than 40 years batsmen wore only a cap or sunhat at most.
The mid-1970s saw England's Mike Brearley experiment with a protective skull-cap worn under the regular cap. But the most notable change in headgear came during Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in the late 1970s which attracted an exceptional crop of fast bowlers, including the West Indies' fearsome four of Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel, Michael Holding and Joel Garner.
Batsmen facing a short-pitched barrage decided to take matters into the their own hands and sought ways to protect their heads. England's Dennis Amiss was one who pioneered the batting helmet. "I went to a motorcycle helmet manufacturer, and he came up with something lighter than the fibreglass motorcycle helmets around in those days," Amiss told the Daily Telegraph. It was superseded by the forerunner of the 'cap'-design helmet which is now commonplace, with plastic visors giving way to metal grilles.
Former England captain Michael Atherton, an opening batsman, wrote in Wednesday's edition of The Times: "Maybe helmets had made us a little complacent." Atherton said while before helmets, batsmen generally hooked cautiously and infrequently off the back foot, helmet-wearing players such as Australia's Matthew Hayden were emboldened to hook off the front foot, a much riskier option. One way to improve batsmen's safety would be an outright ban on bouncers, a move that is now the subject of debate. Before Hughes' death such a ban would have been almost unthinkable. Maybe not so now.