‘Helmets’ by John Holder; plus further reaction to Phil Hughes’ injury

26th November 2014

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield


It was sad news to learn of the injury to the Aussie batsman Phil Hughes who was seriously injured when attempting to hook a bouncer, missed and was struck on his head.

Helmets were brought in to prevent batsmen from sustaining head injuries but they have only partially really served that purpose. What they have done is to give batsmen who cannot properly play the hook shot a false sense of security which encouraged them to hook, often with disastrous results.

Prior to the introduction of helmets, those who could not hook would sway out-of-the-way and watch the ball pass by. In recent times more batsmen try to hook and even those who duck do not watch the ball as it passes. I witnessed that over twenty-seven years of umpiring and saw many batsmen hit in the process.

England’s current highly rated umpire, Michael Gough was a talented, promising opening batsman for Durham. But playing in a county match against Middlesex at Lords, his playing career came to an end when he ducked into a short-pitched delivery from the Pakistani all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, and he was wearing a helmet. The ball bounced below chest height and Michael ducked and turned the back of his head to the ball, not watching it. He could have easily played it defensively off the back foot.

The ball struck him a sickening blow just below his left ear and as he collapsed on to the pitch, blood spurted everywhere. I was the bowler’s end umpire and it was not a pleasant sight witnessing that incident. He recovered physically but his confidence was destroyed, as was his playing career.

Over the years I saw dozens of batsmen wearing helmets struck trying to play the hook shot and failing.

John Holder

John Holder is a highly respected former international umpire, who stood in Tests & ODIs between 1988-2001, and in 1st-class cricket from 1982-2009. He was also the innovative mind behind the introduction of the ‘bowl-out’ to settle washed out one-day games.

Several other items have appeared in response to the incident that are well worth reading:

The BBC’s online News Magazine has put together a very good piece charting the history and development of helmets, which you can read here; while the Economist discusses the bravery required to play cricket.

The BBC also talked to West Indies’ Phil Simmons, whose life was feared for after being hit by a David Lawrence delivery in 1988; and in pre-helmet days, India’s Nari Contractor suffered a similar life-threatening experience when hit by a Charlie Griffith bumper in Barbados in 1962, which he recalled in the Pune Mirror.

Other incidents are catalogued by ESPN Cricinfo, the first of which features Mike Gatting, recalling his blow from Malcolm Marshall; and the terrible injury he witnessed to our own ‘patron’, Roland Butcher.

Cricinfo has published several other items highlighting the frightening impact of such events: Daniel Brettig talks about the reality of being hit when playing; Brydon Coverdale talks about the dreadful feelings that can be incurred by the unlucky bowler; and New Zealand’s Iain O’Brien has composed a heartfelt piece on the danger, and relevance, of the bouncer.

O’Brien was yesterday accused of insensitivity on Twitter, when he made reference to the terrible injury in 1975 incurred by Ewan Chatfield. Perhaps that accusation was justified, perhaps not.

If so, myself, John Holder and the other writers featured are now equally guilty writing about the subject at this time. If you are offended, then on my own behalf, I apologise.

My thoughts and prayers join everyone else’s in hoping for Phil Hughes’ full and speedy recovery.

David Oram


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