Helmets have a history as well

Published: Aug 22, 2019, 05:19 IST | Clayton Murzello |

The keenness of Brearley, Greig and Amiss to develop head protection that has resulted in a safer world for batsmen must be recognised

Australian batsman Graham Yallop bats with a crash helmet against West Indies in the Barbados Test match of the 1977-78 series. Pic/Patrick Eagar, mid-day archives
Australian batsman Graham Yallop bats with a crash helmet against West Indies in the Barbados Test match of the 1977-78 series. Pic/Patrick Eagar, mid-day archives

Clayton MurzelloSteven Smith's much-publicised head injury, sustained in the second Ashes Test at Lord's, must have a profound influence on the game.

The Australians should have been far more inclined towards this extra protection since their countryman Phillip Hughes lost his life due to a head injury in a Sheffield Shield match in the 2014-15 season.Dr Peter Brukner, who was Cricket Australia's chief medico when Hughes suffered his fatal injury, is justifiably stunned that his country's players have not opted for the protection. "It amazes me that even people who were there on the day that Hughes was struck, still will not wear the stem guards. One player said the way I play, I never get hit in that region. Sure enough, six months later, he got hit in that region," Dr Brukner told the Sydney Morning Herald.

That players may not feel comfortable with them is understandable. So researchers and manufacturers of helmets may need to come up with something easier to cope with, even as the game's enthusiasts, former players and pundits, shudder to think what will happen if batsmen get hit on that unprotected spot.

The same reluctance was shown when helmets came in. Sure, they were cumbersome, especially the motorcycle ones which Barry Richards, Dennis Amiss, Tony Greig and Alan Knott used in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Funnily enough, in one of those games, the large helmet prevented Knott from hearing Greig's call against the West Indies and he was run out at the bowler's end.

Amiss, who is credited for being the first player to use a helmet in an international match, told me in Birmingham in 2011: "I had suffered one or two hits on the head and I asked my contemporaries like Tony Greig, Alan Knott, Keith Fletcher and Derek Underwood what they thought about me wearing a helmet and they said, 'Yeah, try it.' Later, Barry Richards started wearing a motorcycle helmet and so did Zaheer Abbas and Mushtaq Mohammad."

Around the same time, Australia's left-handed batsman and future Test captain Graham Yallop came out to bat in a crash helmet at Bridgetown against the West Indies in 1978, when Bob Simpson's under-strength team faced up to Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner in the first two of the five Tests.

David Hookes was another southpaw Aussie batsman seen in a crash helmet in top-grade cricket, albeit on the rebel WSC stage. But that was seven weeks before West Indian Andy Roberts broke his jaw at the Sydney Showground where Hookes batted without a helmet in a Super Test on December 16, 1977. WSC boss Kerry Packer, according to Gideon Haigh in his excellently-researched book, The Cricket War, "promptly sought the name of Amiss's helmet-maker and had a batch ordered that evening from Birmingham." Hookes faced up to Roberts in the International Cup final at the same ground on February 5, 1978 and hooked the Antiguan for two consecutive sixes. While Hookes felt good about giving it back to Roberts, he had to remind himself that he was wearing a helmet which Amiss had lent him.

Helmets were not a part of traditional Test cricket when India toured Australia for their 1977-78 series. At Perth, helmet-less Mohinder Amarnath and Chetan Chauhan were struck by Thomson during their record 149-run second wicket stand on the same day Hookes took that blow from Roberts.

By 1980, helmets were a far more common sight. England's then captain Mike Brearley revealed in a piece for Sportsworld magazine (March 5, 1980) that he and Tony Greig approached a Nottingham-based protection expert, who designed a skull cap which Brearley wore in the late 1970s.

When the Indian batsmen encountered a grassy, bouncy pitch dished out for the BCCI Golden Jubilee Test in 1980, Brearley, who was Gundappa Viswanath's rival captain for that historic game at the Wankhede Stadium, was amazed to see all but two Indian batsmen (Yashpal Sharma and Karsan Ghavri) not walking out with head protection.

"It was a very bouncy pitch and I thought if I have the helmet, why not use it. Ian Botham, who claimed 13 wickets in the match, apart from scoring a century, was very dangerous that morning (February 15)," Ghavri told me on Tuesday. The former all-rounder also recalled Sunil Gavaskar urging Sandeep Patil to wear a helmet when he walked out to bat in the Sydney Test less than a year later, to battle an Australian attack comprising Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe. When Patil reached the team's top score of 65, a Pascoe delivery struck him on the temple. "I was at the non-striker's end when Sandeep was hit and I can still remember the sound of the ball hitting his head – it was as if someone had just broken a coconut," Ghavri remarked. Patil survived a major injury, came out to bat in the next Test at Adelaide with a helmet on and took 174 off the same pace attack.

Perhaps, Smith can take a leaf out of Patil's book and return for the September 4 Manchester Test with the neck guard simply because…what did our teachers tell us in school about discretion and valour?

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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