Yesterday, we were given a stark reminder that cricket is a dangerous game – and that opening batsmen are indeed the bravest of all cricketers.
During an innocuous Shield game on Tuesday, Phil Hughes was struck on the head by a bouncer that was described as ‘routine’. Today, he remains in a critical condition at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney, having undergone life-saving emergency surgery last night.
Today, we wait desperately for positive news on his condition.
The scenes at the SCG yesterday were like those following a car crash. An ambulance helicopter descended onto the famous ground, with three road ambulances also on hand to lend urgent support. Such incongruous images – ambulances on a cricket ground, with doctors performing life-saving CPR – sent shudders through those in attendance.
Cricket is not like other sports. It’s not about brute strength. A large part of the game is concentration and split-second reaction. Failure to pick up the correct line of a ball can leave you in all sorts, as we saw yesterday.
As spectators, we are rightly shocked when a professional athlete falls to the ground or succumbs to major injury in front of our eyes. The feeling is visceral; it shakes us deeply. The game halts as a medicab enters the field; we feel sick. It feels too real.
Sport is first and foremost a spectacle – and often an escape for most of us. The Hughes incident is very confronting; a reminder that cricket is a profession that carries genuine risk.
Interestingly, the Hughes situation comes at a time where we as a nation are toasting the re-emergence of Mitchell Johnson. Johnson’s main role, as far as I can tell, is to send terror through opposition sides – a role he has relished, icing this unhinged bad boy image with a vile-looking handlebar moustache.
Since Johnson’s second coming, Cricket Australia – through its main website and various social media pages – has breathlessly posted articles and updates highlighting the danger he poses to opposition batsman. Perhaps it’s on Mitch’s latest net session, where he unleashed a “fearful net session at the WACA (against his own teammates!)” or how he “plans to continue his bumper barrage” in *insert upcoming series*.
The bouncer is an important part of cricket, and it would be absurd to suggest it has no part in the game. They keep the batsman honest and add a new dimension to the game. It’d be a pretty boring sport if the bowler had no way of intimidating the batsman.
But in light of Phil Hughes’ injury, it will be interesting to see if public sentiment shifts somewhat in regards to the bouncer. Perhaps we won’t have the same absurd lust for blood that we’ve had of late. At the very least, there is now a widespread acceptance that such a delivery can be potentially life-threatening, even with the protection of a helmet.
Additionally, this should put paid to the perception in some quarters that cricket is a soft sport. As mentioned earlier, opening batsmen are the toughest of the lot; facing down a ball traveling at 150km/h takes genuine courage, and the implications of a misjudged pull can be catastrophic.
Given the public reaction, it is very clear that Phil Hughes is a widely respected figure within the cricketing community. He doesn’t hog headlines and he doesn’t court controversy.
Despite being dropped from the Australian team five times, he has shown remarkable resilience to fight back time and time again, piling on runs at domestic level and pressing for a place in the first test against India. At the time of his collapse, he was 62 not out – and in-line to play at the Gabba in two weeks.
I sincerely hope that he recovers quickly and fully.
By Dave Edwards