Picture Courtesy: Screenshots from YouTube
Growing up with the helmet, batsmen will perhaps never be cautious the way their counterparts from earlier generations used to be. Picture Courtesy: Screenshots from YouTube

Phillip Hughes’ helmet could not save him from the fatal injury off Sean Abbott. Not long ago, Ahmad Shehzad faced a similar fate despite wearing a helmet. Have helmets been detrimental to the techniques of batsmen? Abhishek Mukherjee finds out.

“Whatever you do, never take your eyes of the ball,” was what any coach would advise a youngster; at least till the helmet was invented. And they seldom did. Nari Contractor, by his own admission, was disturbed by a gate at Kensington Oval just behind Charlie Griffith’s arm; the grainy videos do not show exactly what Bert Oldfield had done, but all sources suggest that the ball had hit the top edge. It is also to be noted that Oldfield, though not a rank tail-ender, had a First-Class average of less than 24.

Helmets have changed all that. Batsmen know they do not have to fear bouncers, while beamers are an outdated concept. Tail-enders have gleefully hit fast bowlers (Lakshmipathy Balaji against Shoaib Akhtar or VRV Singh against Shaun Pollock or Muttiah Muralitharan against anyone) across the line, while batsmen have been under a (false?) sense of security.

Most importantly, keeping eyes on the ball till the last moment is not a necessary concept anymore. Batsmen grow up with the idea that they can afford to bat without helmets, and it is not necessary to see the ball through to the wicket-keeper. As a result men are being hit more and more on the helmet; on certain occasions (Craig Cumming or Alex Tudor, for example) they have produced horrific results. And then, Phil Hughes happened to cricket.

Repeated hits on helmets have managed to save many a life; or that is the common notion. The injuries to Cumming or Tudor have been at least as horrific as the ones that Larwood had delivered to Bill Woodfull (on the chest) or Oldfield.

Have helmets resulted in complacency? Have they pushed batsmen into a I-can-afford-to-take-my-eyes-off-the-ball-because-my-helmet-will-save-me mode? Let us check two of the most iconic injuries from the early 1980s.


Michael Holding smashes Graeme Wood’s face. Do note the direction at which Wood is staring. The ball, though not very prominent, is yet to reach the batsman. It is to be remembered that Wood was one of the best contemporary batsmen against fast bowling, especially against West Indies. Christian Ryan wrote in Wisden that Wood “was the man the selectors rang whenever the Windies were in town.”


This is the Malcolm Marshall scorcher that ended Andy Lloyd’s career. Like the Wood one, this screen-grab has been taken just before the ball hit Lloyd. Once again the helmet has made him complacent. Once again the helmet was not good enough to protect him.

But that was Andy Lloyd, by no means a great batsman. Though Wood was a brave man, few would consider him an Australian great. Let us move on to some of the bigger names now.


Facing Curtly Ambrose was never easy, but it was always going to be difficult when you take your eyes off. Allan Border, no less, left the back of his head exposed — something a man from a pre-helmet would not dare to do; his instinct would make him act otherwise.


Another Allan, Lamb this time, commits the same error against Ian Bishop. The result? The ball hit the helmet, hurt Lamb badly, and ricocheted on to the stumps.


Yet another case of showing the back of the helmet to the bowler — that too to someone of the pace of Shoaib. It could have led to detrimental effect for Mohammad Azharuddin. Thankfully he got away with a bump.


Finally, a clear picture of the ball. Steve Waugh — known to the world for his guts and grit — was clearly looking the other way when Ajit Agarkar hit his elbow. Waugh had to retire hurt.


The batsman in question is Peter Kirsten — a man who had received more than his share of pace and bounce while growing up. Do note how he is staring at his own feet (is he even staring slightly behind himself?) to a bouncer from Glenn McGrath. He was hit on the helmet.


Sachin Tendulkar, this time, against his nemesis James Anderson. The ball had hit his left shoulder and went on to smash into his left cheek. Tendulkar kept on staring towards point from the point hit the deck.


If Tendulkar is there, can Brian Lara be far behind? This seems to be a legitimate duck against Shoaib, unless you spot the ball near the great man’s neck. Lara had clearly taken his eye off the ball. It was not the wisest thing to do, given that it was the first time he was facing Shoaib.


From Lara to yet another great West Indian: Shivnarine Chanderpaul is the epitome of patience, but the helmet has driven him to complacency as well (do note the red speck just above his shoulder, about to hit him close to his ear). Chanders was knocked unconscious for a few minutes on the pitch, though he got up and scored a hundred.


Matthew Hayden is not the most recognisable batsman when he does not adorn the Baggy Green (he is playing for Queensland against the visiting Pakistanis here). Once again Shoaib is the bowler. Do note where Hayden is staring. The ball is close to the bat (can you see it?).


Rahul Dravid fans would not be too proud of this dismissal. He clearly took his eyes off the ball as he ducked against Shahadat Hossain. The result, if not obvious from the shot, is made clear in the NDTV message.


Taking your eyes off can also lead to humiliating effects, as Jacques Kallis found out against Andrew Flintoff. Many have been fooled by change of pace, but had he kept an eye on the ball throughout, Kallis (given his greatness) may have saved his wicket. The position of the ball is clear. Yes, he was given out. Off a full-toss.


From Hayden to his opening partner: Justin Langer had the worst possible hundredth Test as he was hit by Makhaya Ntini on the first ball he faced. The position of the batsman and the ball tell the whole story. Langer suffered from concussions during the Test, and retired shortly afterwards.


Virender Sehwag, despite being a once-in-a-lifetime batsman, never had the greatest technique in the world (though he got along quite well). Incoming fast balls were always his weakness; having known that, he should perhaps not taken his eyes off a Lee bouncer.


Ishant Sharma’s bouncer is yet to pass Michael Clarke’s gloves, but he is already staring elsewhere. The ball crashed on to his helmet, and he had only himself to blame for that.


Kevin Pietersen was in no position to play this one from Fidel Edwards. The ball rushed on to him, and his primary reaction was to take his eyes off the ball. The ball did not miss the helmet by much, and soared at extreme pace for four byes. KP probably thanked his stars that day.


If Kallis had been humiliated, the case of Hashim Amla was certainly no better. He could perhaps have done nothing to this one from Mohammed Shami, but staring at point while the timber has been disturbed certainly does not make for great viewing.


Some glory for Sourav Ganguly (certainly not the greatest batsman against bounce) here. The helmet has “spoiled” the batsman (agreed, Michael Kasprowicz is no Don Bradman) so complacent that they do not look at it even if there is no threat of an injury, given the pace of the ball. Tail-enders have been fearless when the ball has been pitched up, but certainly not so when someone bounced at them.

The instinctive first movement has changed. Hooks and pulls still happen (more so given the quality of bats and the restriction on bouncers), but every now and then batsmen — the greatest of them, as seen above — flinch, looking elsewhere to end up with, to put it rather softly, unfavourable results.

The damage is probably irreversible. Growing up with the helmet, batsmen will perhaps never be cautious the way their counterparts from earlier generations used to be: after all, the helmet will be there to protect them.

If only that was true.

Complete coverage of Phil Hughes’ head injury

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)