Net injury raises player-safety issue again
The issue of player safety has been raised again, after a net bowler was struck on the head while Ireland were training in Dharamsala. Balls are being hit harder than ever with modern bats and the nets have become a hazardous place, especially for local bowlers who are not as skilled as international cricketers.
During Ireland's training session on Monday morning, Himachal Pradesh Under-23 bowler Mahesh Thakur was hit flush above his right eye by a ball played back at him. He fell over in his follow-through, unconscious. The Ireland physio immediately attended to him and the venue doctor arrived in five minutes. Thakur was taken by ambulance to hospital where he needed stitches for the wound. It could have been much worse.
The modern portable nets increase the danger because if the ball ricochets off their metal frames, it gains speed and reduces reaction time.
Ireland coach John Bracewell has been watching this with concern for some time now - not just from the point of view of safety but also the technique of spinners.
"I think it's been a bit of concern for a while with players getting hit at the nets," Bracewell said. "When we practise indoors we can probably put nets in front of them. I think it's a real concern with spinners because they are not completing the action and are getting into a more defensive position and therefore they get square on. That is a bit worrying technically, and young kids are afraid to bowl in the nets. Maybe we can put up pitching guards and not worry about defending."
Some coaches now wear a baseball-style helmet when giving batsmen throwdowns. A similar protective device for bowlers, while still allowing the arm movement as close to the ear as possible, will be welcome. "It could have been a frontline bowler," Bracewell said. "It hit him square, and it is a big concern surely. May be pitch guards, face guards, but it shouldn't disturb what you're doing. Some makers might be working on it, who knows."
Ireland batsman Andrew Balbirnie saw the injury happen and was disturbed by it. However, he said that in a game that requires the ball to be hit hard, you can't afford to not hit the ball hard in the nets.
At ESPNcricinfo's Lunch with Legends last year, both Martin Crowe and Rahul Dravid had raised the issue. "One of the people I really worry for is net bowlers," Dravid had said. "I have worked in the IPL. We have young kids who bowl in the nets. All university kids, college kids. All 17, 18, 19-year-olds bowling in the nets, and you have the likes of Shane Watson and Chris Gayle batting in the nets and practising T20 batting. I am amazed no one has seriously got hurt."
On the eve of the World T20, the problem has once again arisen through the injury to Thakur.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo