Moises Henriques suffered a broken jaw in three places and Rory Burns facial injuries after the two collided in a sickening blow that saw both left unconscious and hospitalised and Surrey's match against Sussex at Arundel abandoned after 18.4 overs.

Until Steffan Piolet top-edged an innocuous Tom Curran delivery into the offside, this had been an unremarkable afternoon at Arundel. But as Burns, running in from deep cover and Henriques, peddling back from point, collided at pace and with their eyes on the ball, completely unaware of the other's locality, its entire complexion changed.

The severity of the situation was immediately clear, as both players lay motionless on the ground and their Surrey team-mates gestured and called for help. That help arrived instantly, as an ambulance and medical staff rolled onto the field and the remaining players took their leave.

Henriques' jaw had collided with Burns' cheek, lacerating his face and leaving Henriques with a broken jaw. An update from Surrey on Sunday evening said he was awaiting surgery while Burns would need stitches on "head and facial" injuries.

Both had been knocked unconscious by the collision and placed in neck braces and on spinal boards, while being given oxygen and intravenous painkillers.

Concern among the 8,500-strong crowd grew as the group around the players expanded. More medics arrived, a second and third ambulance, Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart paced about and captain Gareth Batty remained by his team-mates' side, utterly helpless. The rest of the players stood huddled on the boundary on the far side of the ground.

After 30 minutes or more, there was progress as Australian international Henriques was lifted, on a stretcher, into an ambulance, waving an arm as he did so. A minute later and the ambulance was on the move. Ten more minutes and Burns - who lay motionless longer and whose situation had initially appeared far more serious - was stretchered into an ambulance as well, offering a double thumbs up with his father by his side. Both players were sat upright by the time they left the ground.

"Both players weren't with it when we got out there, but by the time they left the ground they were conscious," said Sussex physio John Marrale.

As the second ambulance crossed the boundary, the announcement of the game's abandonment was made official. Not a word was uttered in protest. The players were whisked off on the 10-mile journey to St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, where Henriques' jaw was x-rayed and Burns - while waiting to see a maxillofacial surgeon - was chatting to hospital staff. More will be learned of their condition on Monday, when Surrey are set to start a County Championship match against Northamptonshire at Guildford. The game will go ahead as scheduled.

"Two people were injured but the impact went right across the game," said Sussex chief executive Zac Toumazi. "The decision to call the game off was an easy one and everyone responded as quickly as possible. It was important that the measures that we have in place, that were tested, worked. The number one priority was the players' welfare."

A vast crowd had rammed into the most idyllic of all the English outgrounds, but they aired no disappointment at the fixture's abandonment. A signing session was organised and while most Surrey players left swiftly, Kevin Pietersen - who was playing his last game on English soil, perhaps ever - stayed with Sussex's Mahela Jayawardene to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Sussex captain Luke Wright described it as an "easy decision", while umpires Alex Wharf and Jeremy Lloyds had no hesitation in contacting Lord's and calling the fixture off. There was no alternative course of action and the officials - whether medical or cricketing - handled a horrid situation outstandingly.

Lloyds described the incident as "horrendous" and said he had never seen anything of the sort in 40 years as a first-class cricketer and umpire. "You knew there was something horribly wrong as Rory was flat out," he said. "It was like slow motion, you felt helpless. The response was absolutely brilliant and the paramedics were out very quickly."

Wharf said: "It's a horrific situation for the players and we wish them a speedy recovery. Player safety is paramount - we spoke to Lord's and the ECB and got their gauge but we knew straight away that something horrific had happened and our chances of playing again were very slim."

The long shadow cast by the death of Henriques' friend and team-mate Phillip Hughes in Sydney in November last year meant quiet panic was quick to break out among the crowd at Arundel. The incident bore more resemblance to Jason Gillespie's collision with Steve Waugh against Sri Lanka in 1999 but the poor state of both players in this case meant the snap reaction was to fear the worst.

That an umpire in Israel has been killed and a policeman in India blinded by balls since Hughes' passing only heightens such fears and reminds of the game's inherent dangers. This incident will once more be labelled freakish, with the blow sickening, the impact audible and the aftermath - with concern growing as fast as the number of medical staff - horrible.

Thankfully, this will be filed under near misses and the signs - if nascent - are hopeful. While a period of recovery will be required for both players - Chris Rogers has missed a whole Test series with the effects of a concussion - the worst appears to have been averted. As the crowd filtered out and the afternoon wore on, Arundel - and the game of cricket - exhaled a great sigh of relief.