Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Dangers of cricket

Published:Thursday | February 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The debonair Scot Jackie Stewart was right up there with Pele and Muhammad Ali as one of my childhood sporting heroes.

Stewart, a triple World Formula One champion, had announced his retirement at the end of the 1973 season. Any thoughts of continuing for another year were probably erased when his teammate Francois Cevert crashed in practice for the last race of the season, the United States Grand Prix.

Cevert, a 29-year-old French driver, died from his injuries. I've not watched motor racing with any interest since.

The same may happen for young fans in cricket if that sport doesn't take fulsome action to prevent the kind of injury that killed young Australian Phillip Hughes.

The impact of a ball bowled at pace ended his life. Though he was wearing a helmet, the ball found its way to strike a telling blow on the back of his neck.

What can we do?

Something has got to be done ... but what?

Eliminating bouncers and making the cricket ball less of a weapon aren't the best solution. If bouncers disappear from the game, the balance of power will swing even more to the batsmen. Making the ball softer may also mean that bats will have to change, too.

The beauty of football is the constancy of its rules. Other than a minor change in the offside rule and adjustments to how goalkeepers can handle the ball, football is essentially the same as it was when Pele played.

Cricket is already intricate. Rule changes that complicate it further won't be high on the agenda. The International Cricket Council will probably think twice about tinkering with the ball, even now, in the wake of Hughes' untimely passing.

First stop is to encourage the design of a helmet that does more to protect the player. Thankfully, there is news this week of a new and improved helmet. If it can't assure safety, then the rules will have to change. Eliminating bouncers will restrict the bowling repertoire of the pacer, but no one wants to see players die.

Maybe motor racing can help. It is one of several sports in which helmets are worn. In a more similar vein, baseball is a bat-and-ball sport like cricket, and the two sports could share knowledge.

In the meantime, Hughes' tragic death could turn new fans and new playing prospects from the game. As with all cases where competitors die from injuries suffered on the field of play, the Hughes case makes you wonder if a game should end in death. There should only be one answer.

Hubert Lawrence was hit in the gonads by a cricket ball when he was 10. He hasn't played since.