Cricinfo XI

Dangerous games

One of the enduring images of watching South Africa of late has been the frequency with which Makhaya Ntini has struck batsmen on the head. Here, Cricinfo picks out 11 moments where tempers spilled over off the field&

Martin Williamson

May 2, 2006

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One of the enduring images of watching South Africa of late has been the frequency with which Makhaya Ntini has struck batsmen on the head. Old timers mutter about batsmen's flawed techniques resulting from the wearing of helmets, but such instances are nothing new. And helmets might upset some, but they prevent far more serious injuries. Here we outline XI instances where batsmen have been on the receiving end. There are many more examples, so please send us your thoughts and we will publish a follow-up in the weeks to come.



Justin Langer slumps after being struck by Makhaya Ntini © Getty Images
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Makhaya Ntini to Justin Langer, Centurion, 2005-06
Justin Langer's 100th Test was one he won't forget in a hurry - assuming he can remember it. The first ball he faced from Makhaya Ntini pinged him on the head, and Langer crouched down and then lay on his back as medical staff rushed to his aid. He was taken to hospital with concussion and played no further part in the match, although he was rumoured to be willing to bat on the final day as Australian wickets tumbled. Langer had a history of being struck on the head - he was felled by Ian Bishop on his debut in 1992-93 - and was withdrawn from the tour of Bangladesh that followed. There was even talk of his retirement in the days that followed, but fortunately that now seems unlikely, although he has accepted his days of fielding at short leg are over.

John Platts to George Summers, MCC v Nottinghamshire, 1870
George Summers was a well-liked Nottinghamshire batsman who had the misfortune to face John Platts, a young fast bowler on the MCC staff with a point to prove. The Lord's pitch at the time was dreadful even by the standards of the day, and Summers was struck by a rising delivery, one of many which had buzzed around the batsmen's heads that day. He was carried off - the next batsman arrived at the crease with his head swathed in a towel - and sent back home. But the rough carriage ride can hardly have helped his condition, and he died four days later at his father's home in Nottingham. Platt never bowled fast again and became a medium-pace bowler of some note.



Bert Oldfield reels away after being struck by Harold Larwood © The Cricketer
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Harold Larwood to Bert Oldfield, Australia v England, 1932-33
In many people's minds, the defining image of Bodyline is that of Bert Oldfield reeling away clutching his head after being struck by Harold Larwood. In fact, Larwood wasn't bowling leg theory at the time and Oldfield actually top-edged the ball into his face, but that was of little consequence to the angry crowd. Bill Woodfull, Australia's captain, had already been struck and Oldfield was not a recognised batsman - and he also had a metal plate in his skull, a legacy of World War One. So serious was the threat of trouble that mounted police were on standby outside the ground and England were subjected to a barrage of booing. "My own fault," said Oldfield on regaining consciousness. Later, when Larwood settled in Australia, the two became the closest of friends.

Allan Donald to Sultan Zarawani, Rawalpindi, 1996
Sultan Zarawani was a multi-millionaire who was bitten by the cricket bug while at university in Pakistan, and he had the money to make his dream of playing in the World Cup a reality when he captained UAE's motley collection of Asian expats in 1996. He proved, however, that immense riches do not necessarily mean that you are overloaded with common sense, and he went out to face a rampaging Allan Donald wearing only a sunhat. "Al, this guy's asking for it," snarled Pat Symcox. Donald agreed, and his first ball struck Zarawani on the head, knocking off his sunhat and sending the batsmen tottering around as if drunk. But after a few seconds, Zarawani picked up his sunhat and bravely/stupidly resumed as if nothing had happened. Mercifully, his impression of a duck in a shooting alley ended six balls later and without further mishap.



Nari Contractor is helped off the field after being struck by Charlie Griffith © The Cricketer
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Charlie Griffith to Nari Contractor, Barbados v Indians, 1961-62
Charlie Griffith was one of the most controversial fast bowlers of all time, and even to this day the legality of his action arouses strong debate, especially the issue of his faster ball. In India's match against Barbados, Nari Contractor, the tourists' captain, was struck on the side of the head by a Griffith bouncer which he failed to pick up. At the start of the over Rusi Surti, the non-striker, had shouted, "Skipper, he's chucking," but Contractor had told him to keep quiet. He was led from the field, blood coming from his nose and ears, and it soon became clear the injury was more serious than originally thought. In fact, his skull was fractured and he underwent two emergency operations to remove clots on the brain as he battled for his life. Several players gave blood to help him and he was unconscious for six days. Contractor recovered but never played Test cricket again - he wanted to but, as he later recalled, the selectors feared for his well-being.

Steve Harmison to Ricky Ponting, Lord's, 2005
The Ashes were less than an hour old when Steve Harmison cracked Ricky Ponting flush on the side of his helmet with a brute of a ball - Langer had already been struck a painful blow on the elbow. Ponting looked as if he would brush this off, but it soon became clear that he was bleeding from a cut on the side of the head. England's players were noticeably disinterested in the Australian captain's discomfort, and although England went on to lose the Test, the signal had been sent that they were prepared to take Australia on head-to-head and that for the first time in almost two decades, they were quite willing to play the hard men.



Ewan Chatfield collapses after being hit by Peter Lever © The Cricketer
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Peter Lever to Ewan Chatfield, New Zealand v England, 1974-75
Possibly the one incident that truly brought home the danger of the game. Ironically, England had just weathered Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson without any (major) injuries when they faced New Zealand at the fag-end of a long tour. Ewan Chatfield, a no-hoper as a batsman and making his debut, hung around for 45 minutes on the final day with England poised for victory. As his frustration mounted, Peter Lever let him have a short one. The ball deflected into Chatfield's temple and he collapsed twitching and swallowed his tongue. Only the quick action of Bernard Thomas, England's physio, saved his life - he gave him heart massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation - and as Chatfield was stretchered off, Lever sat on the outfield weeping. Chatfield told Lever, who visited him later that day in hospital, that it wasn't his fault, while Lever admitted he thought he had killed him.

Malcolm Marshall to Mike Gatting, England v West Indies, 1985-86
England's tour of the Caribbean in the spring of 1986 was one of the most gruesome turkey shoots in Test history, as West Indies' four-pronged pace attack tore an underprepared opposition limb from limb. The series finished as a 5-0 blackwash, but it was a sickening incident in the very first one-day encounter that set the tone for the rest of the tour, as Mike Gatting had his nose rearranged by a vicious lifter from Malcolm Marshall. Short, skiddy and very, very quick, Marshall was at the absolute peak of his powers, and at the behest of his captain, Viv Richards, delivered the perfect "perfume ball" - he later discovered shards of Gatting's nose embedded in the leather. The fight went out of England at that very moment - Allan Lamb remembered quaking with fear as he took strike to Marshall and even admitted to walking when he hadn't hit it. Gatting, meanwhile, was soon reacquainted with his sense of humour. He arrived back at Heathrow Airport, face like a puffy-cheeked panda, only to be asked by a reporter: "Where exactly did it hit you?"



Brian Close in the firing line at Old Trafford © The Cricketer
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West Indies to John Edrich and Brian Close, England v West Indies, 1976
The final 80 minutes of the third day of the Old Trafford Test would have appealed to lovers of gore as England's openers, John Edrich and Brian Close, aged 41 and 46 respectively, were subjected to a barrage of bouncers with little intervention by the umpires. The Times estimated that only 10 of the 73 balls would have come close to the stumps, and Close was struck several painful blows (helmets and associated protection did not start appearing until the following year). Hard man that he was, however, he never flinched. "It was like being a coconut in a coconut shy," he later admitted. "Our boys got a bit carried away," was West Indies captain Clive Lloyd's assessment. Close and Edrich survived to the close, but upon reaching the dressing-room both threw down their bats and said they felt like giving up the game. As it happened, both were dropped immediately afterwards, but their courage was never in doubt.

Ray Lindwall to Denis Compton, Trent Bridge , 1948
Two of cricket's post-war superstars went head-to-head in 1948. Denis Compton, England's leading batsman, had narrowly avoided being poleaxed by Keith Miller in the first Test, but in the third at Old Trafford, he had made a dozen when he top-edged an attempted hook off a Ray Lindwall no-ball into his head. Clearly concussed, Compton was led from the field and had two stitches inserted into the gash. He returned later that afternoon to great cheers and with his head swathed in bandages. Lindwall greeted him with a bouncer, to the crowd's fury, to which Compton responded with a broad grin and an unbeaten 145.



Terry Jenner is hit by John Snow in the final Test of the 1970-71 Ashes © The Cricketer
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John Snow to Terry Jenner, Australia v England, 1970-71
John Snow had bowled magnificently in cricket's only seven-Test series, but the crowd's growing antipathy towards Ray Illingworth's side spilled over when he struck Australia's No.9 Terry Jenner on the head and the ball flew to extra cover. As Jenner was led off (as he left Greg Chappell, the non striker, told him that there had been a run in the rebound) umpire Lou Rowan warned Snow for short-pitched bowling, something most eyewitnesses thought he should have done much earlier. A finger-wagging Illingworth and Rowan exchanged views, and as Snow returned to long leg he was grabbed by a drunken spectator. Bottles and cans were soon being thrown, and Illingworth led his side from the field, despite warnings from the officials that in doing so they risked forfeiting the match.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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