A time of introspection for cricket

Date: November 28, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

P HughesIt is often said that sport is a great leveller.

However, this week it has served to flatten most people.

The horrific scenes that played out at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday afternoon have left a pall hanging over us all, whether we are cricket followers or not.

All of us are sportspeople at some stage in our life if only because it is a compulsory period on the weekly school schedule.

For those that choose to take it beyond the enforced school curriculum, they likely do so because of the sheer joy that sport can provide … the wind in our hair as we run; the relief of sinking that putt; the exhilaration of kicking the winning goal; of being as one with your team in victory.

The word ‘sport’ actually derives from a longer archaic word, ‘disport’, which means a diversion from serious matters or work.

And for most of us who are weekend warriors that is what it so often is, a diversion from the everyday grind.

For that short period of time, as either a participant or spectator, we are transported to another place – a place that sits beyond the normal concerns and intricacies of our life.

Some, who many of us regard as the ‘lucky few’, are able to turn their passion into a career as a sporting professional.

Yet even then, to a man and woman, they still experience the joy that each of us feel as mere battlers when it all falls into place.

Sport is akin to a drug – it gives us a high, and as such, we want to keep returning to the well for more.

Some sports are seen as being overtly dangerous, and by that I mean dangerous in the sense that only a select few would want to experience them at the upper echelons.

Hopping into a boxing ring or riding a motorcycle at 250km/h would have most people baulking.

With the vast majority of sports fear is not the deterrent when it comes to making the grade but more so it is a lack of the requisite mental and physical attributes that holds us back.

And included amongst that list, in the main, is cricket.

Most of us who dreamed in the backyard of doffing the baggy green upon attaining our maiden Test century failed to do so, not because of the physical fear of playing the game, but merely because we fell short technically, physically and mentally.

Sure, there have been times over the years when we have winced in our lounge chair or seat in the grandstand when a batsman has been hit amidships or had a ball clatter into his helmet.

But I doubt we have ever truly contemplated the happenings at the SCG a few days ago.

We have seen players hit over the heart and smacked on the helmet yet most often it is met with a clenching of the draw and a squeezing of the eyes rather than the belief that we are about to see a catastrophic event play out.

After all, those bare headed or capped batsmen of yore seemed to cope pretty well.

Admittedly there were some close calls with the likes of Graeme Watson and Ewan Chatfield but those guys didn’t have the body armour back then that is available today.

And at the top of that list of protective apparel is the helmet.

Unless spin is in operation at both ends nowadays you don’t see players without one.

In many ways we have been anaesthetized in recent decades to the potential risks of being struck by that little rock hard sphere – we seemed to take some bad bruises, the odd broken finger or perhaps a severe bout of concussion as perhaps the extent of the damage that could likely be done.

But all that changed on Tuesday afternoon.

The injury sustained by Phillip Hughes was like a bolt of lightning from a cerulean sky.

We were neither expecting nor prepared to witness such a tragic event.

The scenes that unfolded in Sydney will remain fresh in the mind for quite some time, not least of whom with players themselves.

The next time a fast bowler is struck down the ground for four, there will likely be a conscious thought process that will follow – not where he should direct the bouncer but whether he should at all.

In time that second guessing will fade, as most things do in life.

But in the short-term you can bet it will go through every fast bowler’s mind.

And there will likely be a cessation of chirp from around the field for their spearhead to “give him one”.

Things like the Hughes incident leave a ripple, like a stone cast into a pond.

Eventually that ripple will fade away but it will take time before bowlers just see their next ball – a searing and menacing bouncer – as simply a way of putting it up the batsman.

Yes, those that wield the willow nowadays are well protected.

However, like life itself, cricket has within it latent threats and the most serious of them played out at the SCG.

Some will no doubt call for a legislative review of the short ball although now is not the time to attempt to rewrite things as a result of a knee jerk reaction.

Accidents happen and that is precisely what it was that befell Phil Hughes.

And trying to legislate against it will not see such threats eradicated and, dare I say, players themselves would not wish to see the laws amended.

In fact, looking to eradicate short-pitched intimidatory bowling could in fact produce a far more dangerous environment.

If batsmen know what they are likely to expect they can train for it.

It is when something they are not expecting confronts them that a greater danger exists.

Just because a law is set in stone it does not mean it will be adhered to.

Phil Hughes is currently in a place we would not wish anyone to be.

We are all hoping for a happy outcome.

But whatever the future holds we have all been delivered a salient reminder.

No matter the training, protection and legislation that is in place tragic events can occur.

It is sadly a product of the life we live every day, whether that be inside or outside a boundary line.

God speed Phil.

Everyone is right behind you.

First published on The Roar – the roar.com.au – on 27 November 2014