County news July 12, 2017

'I'm lucky to be here' says Fletcher - and he fears it will happen again

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'I'm lucky to be here' - Luke Fletcher

Luke Fletcher feels "lucky to be here" after sustaining a ferocious blow to the head during Saturday's T20 Blast match at Edgbaston.

Fletcher, the Nottinghamshire seamer, sustained the injury when his first ball of the match was struck back at him by Birmingham batsman, Sam Hain and hit him on top of the head.

While Fletcher didn't lose consciousness, subsequent scans showed bruising and a small bleed on the brain with a decision taken to rest him for the remainder of the season. He will have a further MRI scan in the coming days to assess his recovery and currently sports a cut held together by eight stitches under the hairline.

But while he is naturally disappointed to miss the rest of the season - Nottinghamshire are well-placed to push for promotion and are among the favourites in the Blast - and frustrated at being told he must not drive a car, he accepts his is a story that could have had a far more serious ending.

Indeed, he has warned that something similar "will happen again" and said that, at Notts, the bowlers no longer take-part in net sessions with batsmen to avoid such injuries.

"I'm really lucky to be here now and speaking to you today," he said. "The doctors said I pretty much dodged a bullet. A few inches to the left or right and it could have been a completely different story. If it had hit the temple or straight in the face then…. I don't really want to think about what may have happened.

"In a weird way, I suppose I've been lucky. It's hit me on a part of the brain or skull that the surgeon said you don't use much."

He remembers every moment of the incident. And, having not seen the ball hit back at him - his head was down as he completed his delivery stride - or felt much pain, it was only when he saw the reaction of his teammates and then saw footage of the moment of impact that he started to realise how serious the episode was.

"In a weird way, I quite enjoyed watching it back. I quite like stuff like that."

"I remember letting go of the ball and I could see that Hain backed away," he said. "The next thing I remember being hit on the head and thinking 'I may be in a bit of bother here.' I didn't see the ball one bit. I just felt it.

"When it hit me I went down and was waiting to go unconscious. When I realised I was all right, I had my hand on my head and the physio, James Pipe was asking 'How are you?'

"I said 'I don't feel too bad to be honest.' And then I lifted my hand off my head. Steven Mullaney ran off - and a few other lads ran off - because of the bleeding. But I got to my feet pretty quickly and never really felt unstable at all and walked off. Which is absolutely amazing having watched it back. You'd probably expect a bit more, really. Having such a big 'swede' probably helped me out a bit.

"In a weird way, I quite enjoyed watching it back. I quite like stuff like that. As long as I knew I was all right, it was quite good. It was just amazing how far the ball went. I couldn't believe it. The first time I saw it, I was a bit like 'off' and that's when I realised why everyone was so concerned."

The concern of Fletcher's teammates was understandable. Not only is he a popular member of their squad, but it is only just over a year since the club was jolted by news of James Taylor's illness.

"Having spoken to a few of my mates - Mullaney and Jake Ball - that's what was going through their minds," he said. "And then there was Phil Hughes as well….

"But once the lads came off the field and saw I was fine, they got on with the game. James Pipe has been unbelievable throughout; he stayed by my side for the next 48 hours, really. He's been amazing."

Fletcher is guided from the field at Edgbaston © Getty Images

It doesn't take long to understand Fletcher's popularity. He has a good line in self-deprecating wit - "I don't know how the ball is," he says at one stage. "Someone had better check up on it; the lads said it was reversing a bit later" and, later "My mum and dad were a bit annoyed as they had paid £30 and they only saw me bowl one ball" - and knows many of his team-mates well having come through the club's system from his teenage years.

He didn't have things easy, either. When he was initially offered a place on the staff as a 16-year-old, he was obliged to turn it down as it didn't pay as much as the job he was currently in - he was a grill man at Hooters - so the club arranged for him to have a stint on the gates letting lorries come in and out as the Radcliffe Road Stand was redeveloped. "It was freezing," he recalls with a smile. "It was much better in the kitchen."

But he has developed into a fine cricketer. While not an especially fast bowler - probably somewhere around 80 mph - he can move the ball in the air and off the pitch, is considered one of the best death bowlers in the county game and was recently run-out just eight short of a maiden first-class century. He is out of contract at the end of the season but the club will look after him: a new contract will be announced shortly.

The worrying aspect of this incident is that it could easily have ended much worse. Indeed, Fletcher warns that in training, bowlers are already reluctant to bowl at batsmen practising their T20 skills.

"I think it'll happen again," he said. "Most bowlers - certainly at Notts - in the nets tend to go away and do target practice on the side in one-day and T20, just because balls are coming back at a speed you can't react to. You get hit all over your body. I certainly think the chances are it will happen again.

"I'm sure after this people will come up with some sort of theories and some sort of technologies or protective equipment. You can't be running in with a helmet, can you? But maybe something to protect your head?

"I'll certainly bowl again. I'd bowl now if I could."

There are huge questions here for the game. While some level of risk may be considered unavoidable, incidents such as this - coming on top of the incident that caused such devastating damage to club cricketer Alex Tait a few months ago - might be considered warnings. With bats better, batsmen seemingly more powerful and the aggression of the game having undergone a transformation since the introduction of T20, it seems inevitable that, sooner or later, we're going to see a bowler killed by a return hit. The game, or at least the look of the game, might have to change radically to counteract such a threat.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gbell83391571 on July 13, 2017, 9:04 GMT

    so glad to here youre ok luke, i think its sensible to take the season off, you are a very popular and tough cricketer and look forward to seeing you steam in next year

  • richar0634655 on July 13, 2017, 6:17 GMT

    Top man is Fletch. Will always have banter with the crowd whether home or away. A real favourite. He got a great ovation at Lords when he came past the Notts fans after having a net.

    I'm sure the club will look after him and hope he gets through this all OK.

  •   cricfan69564930 on July 13, 2017, 5:47 GMT

    Well done Mr Dobell....firstly for providing the link to Alex Tait,which shows what is seen at "professional" level is also mirrored at club fact numberswise, international and first class injuries are likely to be low when compared to the number injured playing all other sorts of cricket combined.....

  •   cricfan69564930 on July 13, 2017, 5:34 GMT

    the untouched topic here is the current substitute player debacle...we need the MCC/ICC to amend the complex laws around sub players so that teams have 3-4 bench players who can be subbed on and off to bat ,bowl or field as often as the team likes...the better the subs play,the better the standard of entertainment....i know ricky ponting famously threw his toys around when england fielded a gun fielder as 12th man all series-but i think ponting was on the wrong end of the debate....having sub-fielders in international cricket will have an immediate positive effect on the wellbeing of the whole team...and can we please wipe the current injury time = no bat for x time equation..??...

  • castro6065533 on July 13, 2017, 0:52 GMT

    Have to give full credit to Luke Fletcher for having a sense of humour about it, I wish him a speedy recovery.

  • Riff on July 12, 2017, 17:26 GMT

    I was listening to TMS when it happened and immediately feared the worse! Really glad he is fine and no serious damage occurred. I found his phrasing interesting; it wasn't a bullet and he didn't dodge it and we're happy for that! :)

  • Will on July 12, 2017, 16:54 GMT

    I was at Edgbaston on Saturday, and the sound of the ball off the top of his head is not one I wish to hear again. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thinking rationally however, Fletcher is both lucky and unlucky. Certainly, he was lucky not to be more badly hurt but he was also unlucky, insomuch as these incidents, whilst devastating for those involved, are relatively rare. You can minimise risk, but you can't eradicate it. All sports have inherently dangerous aspects to them, and a balance has to be struck between the risks and also changing the nature of sport so that it becomes changed out of all recognition. Cricket fundamentally remains a very safe sport and is nowhere near as dangerous as say, horse racing or rugby or let's be honest driving a car. Not, of course, that we should be complacent.

  • Kenny on July 12, 2017, 15:18 GMT

    "part of the brain or skull that the surgeon said you don't use much" - Jeez, the last thing you need after being hit on the head like that is a doctor throwing shade at you.

    All the best for your recovery, Luke.

  • cricfan8555070994 on July 12, 2017, 15:09 GMT

    perhaps rugby style skull caps could be brought in? would at least be something...

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