Injuries July 9, 2013

Blood and guts

Watching people sustain impact injuries on a cricket field can be a haunting experience

The gory game © Getty Images

Like most long-term cricket fans, I've seen many injuries on television: the full-blooded bouncer-blow to the head, the smash-mouth ball to the face, the cut lip, the broken fingers, the broken toe, the shower of teeth, the bruised thighs. The list goes on.

The glorious game is also the gory game. And like many folks who have watched the game up and close and even played it a little, the cricket injuries I've witnessed in person were even worse, the stuff of nightmares, ensuring a set of resilient images always stalked me whenever I was on or close to a cricket field, whether as player or spectator.

The first serious cricketing injury I witnessed in person was in middle school. I was in the seventh grade, and had sauntered over close to my school's cricket field, where, rumour had it, the school cricket team was practising. This was a chance to see the big boys in action. The action was all it promised to be: burly fast bowlers bustled in to bowl thunderbolts; wily spinners tweaked and twirled; and impossibly stylish batsmen stroked and defended with panache. The nets the team was practising in seemed to hold all this tremendously dynamic display of cricketing skill in a tight enclosure. Till disaster struck.

The nets, you see, were not without their threadbare and tattered portions; parts had been frittered away till holes had opened in their side walls. And through them burst one full-blooded lofted on-drive. It hit the school team's offspinner, standing on the sidelines, waiting his turn for a bowl, flush on the forehead, and sent him down in a heap, even as blood gushed out apace between the fingers of the hand with which he had clutched his wound. I turned away, unable to bear the sight of the bleeding, but there was nothing I could do to erase the sickening sound of the impact of leather and raised seam on bone and flesh from my mind. Somehow, I never found out how the victim fared; did he suffer a serious brain injury, for instance? My mind must have been extremely juvenile to have not concerned itself with such a reasonable follow-up inquiry.

Years later, in high school, again during net practice, I watched our fastest bowler, a whippy left-armer, hit our opening batsman squarely on the mouth. The paceman had bowled a bouncer. It called for a hook or a pull, but the batsman missed. The lad dropped the bat, turned away slightly and bent over as if to catch his breath. A rivulet of blood and bits of teeth ran out, staining the grey sand below him. I watched fascinated, unable to act, even as help from the sidelines reached him on the double. He was led away to the infirmary for patching up. Later, at dinner time, we gazed in awestruck horror at his bandaged mouth and jaw, the badges of a hero. He lost teeth, I think, but I can remember little else of the aftermath of that disaster.

And then, finally, to round this trifecta of cricketing mayhem, a nugget from my university days. It was a so-called friendly against the junior departmental members. We were pretty evenly matched. But late in the game, things looked bad, and we were headed for a seemingly inevitable loss. Our last hope, a left-handed allrounder, struck out boldly, and for a moment or two, we entertained hopes of a narrow two- or three-wicket win. Then, as I watched from the sidelines, something went wrong.

Again a short-pitched ball, and again an attempted pull. The batsman went down, and even as I ran out to the middle of the field, he stood up. As he turned to me, his eyes wide with shock, the front of his shirt stained with blood, I noticed his front teeth were missing. Later that night, after we had taken him to a nearby emergency room for patching up and first aid, I was still shaken by that sight of him turning toward me, an expression of bewilderment still on his face, still wondering just what had gone wrong. He never played serious cricket again. The way he told it, he couldn't risk that kind of injury anymore.

Fear is always present anywhere when a hard, fast projectile is in the mix; the cricket field is one such place. I always knew there was a reason I didn't go too far in the game. Besides not being too good with either bat or ball, I was also suitably apprehensive, a little too well forewarned by the laws of physics about all the things that can go wrong when hard leather meets pliant flesh.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here