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Phillip Hughes; A tragic lesson we must all learn from

In the wake of the tragic death of cricketer Phillip Hughes, an expert on cricket equipment safety believes helmet manufacturers will in the future be able to protect the upper neck of a batsman without restricting their movement.

anthony_mcgrath

The comments come following calls for player safety to be heightened in the aftermath of Hughes’s death and the chief executive of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland, has announced that the organisation will “immediately” conduct an investigation following the events that unfolded at the Sydney Cricket Ground, when Hughes was struck on the neck by a bouncer and died two days later in hospital.

Gunn & Moore and Gray-Nicolls both confirmed this week that the incident could cause manufacturers to reassess protection of the neck. Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, said on Thursday: “Putting bits on the neck is an area we’ve never thought about.”

A new British standard of head protection was ratified in December last year by the England and Wales Cricket Board in conjunction with the International Cricket Council’s medical committee, following research and testing undertaken at Loughborough University.

Andy Harland, the director of the university’s sport technology institute, is confident that improvements to neck protection can be made in the coming years, without impacting too heavily on a batsman’s movement, which is the current problem.

He said: “I suspect that as other materials are developed in the years to come, we will be able to protect this area effectively without restricting players’ mobility. There is nothing obviously available now that will do that and we will have to study the full details of Phil Hughes’s death.

“Ultimately, with any piece of safety equipment, there has to be a compromise between safety, comfort and performance, I see those in a triangle and if you prioritise one of those, you almost always have to compromise on something. Some people used to use motorcycle helmets and they protect against all things, but they were uncomfortable and didn’t allow players to perform to the level they wanted to. Players want to be able to perform to the best of their ability.”

Meanwhile Phillip Hughes’ helmet manufacturer Masuri has expressed sympathy with the Australian’s family after his untimely death.

“Masuri would like to send sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family of Phillip Hughes over their great loss,” read a statement from the firm. “Everyone at Masuri is truly saddened by this event.”

Hughes was wearing a Masuri Original Test model helmet which does not protect the back of a batsman’s head, a particularly vulnerable area.

But Masuri, a Winchester-based company, have now developed a new model – the Vision Series – which does protect the back of the head while still allowing the batsman comfortable movement.

“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, missing his Masuri Original Test model helmet.

“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 newly-developed Masuri Vision Series helmet, which supersedes the 2013 helmet worn by Phil Hughes, does afford batsmen extra protection in this region – and still allows comfortable movement.”

But most of the improvements have focused on the front of the helmet to strengthen grilles and reduce the gap between the grille and peak of the helmet to prevent balls penetrating a causing serious facial injuries.

“There’s a new British Standard for helmets that is coming in and is going through the testing houses at the moment and in the throes of being approved. The old British Standard didn’t even test the grille impacts and that was an obvious flaw,” said Angus Porter, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association

“So we have been working with the ECB, the ICC and British Standards over the last couple of years and that new standard is ready to be implemented.”

Since the 70s, helmets have changed the way batsmen play, and in doing so altered the dynamic of the game fundamentally. Whereas, pre-helmets, batsmen tended to move back and across initially, post-helmets, they advanced to the bowler more; whereas, pre-helmets, batsman hooked cautiously, infrequently and off the back foot, giving themselves a fraction longer to see the ball, posthelmets they hooked off the front foot with added danger.

In light of the tragedy and the focus on added protection, some quarters have also turned their thoughts to similar potential accidents happening in other sports and the potential consequences.

Although cricket and golf are two entirely different sports, they broadly follow the same principle of a hard projectile travelling at high speeds towards unprotected people.

Frequently we are see Tour pros hurling golf balls the other side of the ropes towards people in T-shirts and shorts, grandstands and beer tents, and most importantly, not shouting ‘Fore’ or pointing in the direction of their ball.

There are numerous other cases spanning the internet about people getting injured or dying from being struck by errant golf balls, but the devastating news about cricket star Hughes losing his life to a cricket ball only emphasises the need for a forceful shout of ‘Fore’ to save lives in golf.

One wonders how long it may be before sports such as golf look to introduce protective clothing and headwear having learned from the tragedy that has unfolded over the last week and will undoubtedly have far reaching considerations for the future.

Anthony McGrath – Sports Consultant

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