November 26, 2014

The bouncer's impact

The life-threatening injury suffered by Phillip Hughes is a reminder of the dangers faced by batsmen when handling bouncers. Here, three Test batsmen recall how they were impacted by injuries arising from short balls.

Mike Gatting
Nose broken by Malcolm Marshall, first ODI, Kingston, February 18, 1986

We all know when we go into a game that you could get hit. You could break a bone. You could get hurt. Just getting the inside of the thigh stings a lot and wakes you up. Sometimes it is actually quite good for that to happen because it stimulates the adrenalin and it helps you sharpen your focus.

But the ball that hit me on the nose was different. I was very lucky because I sadly saw Roland Butcher get hit in the eye and he suffered a depressed fracture later. The eye sort of sunk a bit and I often wondered how that affected Butch. In my case it broke a bone. It hurt. I always felt I was lucky because it was just my nose. As the surgeon who worked on realigning my nose told me it could have been quite worse: it could have pushed the bone back into my brain and that could have been serious trouble.

Once the nose got reconstructed I was told I had to wear a face guard as opposed to the side flaps helmet. Trying to wear this helmet with a metal visor was disconcerting because I was looking through something I had never had to. I wore that in the match in final Test of the same series played in Antigua. I was not necessarily thinking about the pain and the hurt of the ball hitting me in the face again. I was more concerned about how to see the ball through the grille.

I knew Marshall was going to bowl me some bouncers. I told myself I will hook it. Marshall was a good bowler as he knew I would be looking for the bouncer and so he did not start hurling them straightaway. But then he came round the wicket and bowled the bouncer. I went for the hook. I was a bit late and it went over Marshall's head.

Was I trying to premeditate to play the hook? No. I just wanted to check the pitch first, and see if a bouncer did come I would duck a couple and then if I saw one that was on the right side to play a shot I would go for it. I did not make any technical changes really. I suppose what changes if at all is against the bowler that hits you, you would say at some time you are going to make a statement: right, you are going to bowl me a bouncer but I'm not that afraid. I'm still going to hook you. I'm still going to take you on.

There is always the tingle when you are playing a fast bowler and you tell yourself "crikey, there is a battle on here. I got to be at my best." When I faced Malcolm again, that second time, there was that tingle and how I was going to react. I didn't know. I tried to keep telling myself "watch the ball" but I was not sure how the body was going to react. Was it going to freeze? Was it not going to do something that I wanted to do.

Going back to the Marshall incident it was just a broken bone. I do not think about the Marshall hit at all. Even if I see it on film, it does nothing to me. I have a scar on the top of my nose between my eyes. I just think: aren't I lucky?

Andy Lloyd
Hit in the right temple by Malcolm Marshall, first Test, Edgbaston, June 18, 1984

Mentally I was in the best frame of mind: I was playing at my home ground. I did not stay at the team hotel because I travelled to the ground from home. And I knew the pitch form the back of my mind. Before the ball that hit me, I had already faced a few short deliveries from Garner and Marshall. But this ball just flew at me and caught me completely unawares. I thought it was going to go over my left shoulder. Instead it hit me flush on the temple behind my right eye.

My first impulse, like that of many batsmen who are hit in the face or head, was to get up and bat. At the time I was not in intense pain. I was totally compos mentis. But the time I knew there was a problem was when I tried reading the advertising signboards fencing the ground. There used to an old television company called Rediffusion. That sign to me was blurred as Bernard Thomas the England physiotherapist attended me. That is when I realised there was something wrong with my vision. I consented willingly to go off.

That ball unfortunately meant I had lost 35% of central vision in my right eye. I was told the cones and rods that send the messages back to your brain had been destroyed by the impact of the ball hitting me. My biggest issue was whether I was going to play cricket again. The option was to retire and take the insurance. But I chose to stick to the game. My first county match on return was against Glamorgan at Edgbaston the following season in 1985. I made 160 in that match, my first competitive innings. Basically people hurled a fair amount of short deliveries at me thinking I would be hesitant or worried about that. If you are scared you have no chance of surviving in cricket.

I was 50% of the batsman I was after that injury. But the injury never damaged my confidence. The only time you lose confidence and puts hesitation in your game is when you are not scoring runs. Not a physical injury. I agree my ego did get bruised after the incident. On return I became a more attacking player. That was because I knew I couldn't play for England again because the eyesight issue meant I could not ever be the batsman I would like to be.

Rick McCosker
Jaw broken by Bob Willis, Centenary Test, Melbourne, March 12, 1977

I was asked by Greg Chappell, our captain, whether I wanted to go back to bat or not. I said I did for couple of reasons. First one was I wanted to be part of that match, which was such a huge occasion being the Centenary Test. We also recognised that we needed more runs. England being a good batting side, we felt that we needed a bigger total and we had to do everything we could achieve that. Rod Marsh was getting close to a century so if he had somebody to support him at the other end he go on to become the first Australian wicketkeeper to score a Test century and make history.

I knew what was coming. The first ball was not a bouncer, but it happened fairly quickly. It was a Test match between Australia and England and they would do everything in their power to win the match and we would have done the same thing had it been one of their batsman. Even though there was a strong reaction from the Melbourne crowd it was part and parcel of playing Test cricket and I was ready for facing the short stuff.

Being human, once it happens once, you don't particularly want to go through it again. You are wary about that and always it is there at the back of your mind. What that incident did not change was my attitude towards batting. I did not change my attitude to the hook shot. I never said that I was never going to play the hook again. Simply because I realised there was a reason why it did happen in the first place: due to the lack of proper technique in playing the hook. So that was my fault, not anybody else's.

Another important factor that I get asked a lot from the injury of the kind I suffered is the pain. I found out subsequently that the break in jaw cut across the nerve system. So for some time, and still to certain extent today, that part of my face is numb because those nerves were shattered.

It is not about fear the next time you go in to bat. What you learn is to be more cautious.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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