The violence factor in fast bowling
Cricket is a sport. Fast bowling is an art, not a lethal weapon. Fast short-pitched bowling above shoulder height, or a bouncer as normally referred to in cricket, is unnecessary and used for the sole purpose of intimidation.
Having said the above, let me put the case to you. A bouncer or a short-pitched ball which is aimed at the batsman’s head at 140 to 150 kms per hour is a missile that requires a lot of talent and technique to avoid, leave alone scoring off. Even a very experienced international batsman is at risk if there is a momentary lapse of concentration.
And it can happen to the best of batsmen, as in the tragic case of poor Phillip Hughes. It is a catastrophic incident and emotions are running high at the moment. But it is all the more reason why the future of this delivery should be debated now and if possible confined to the annals of history.
The only other fatal incident in cricket I can remember is that of Raman Lamba, who was a Test level batsman who succumbed to a hit to his temple while fielding at short leg. Although they are two different set of circumstances, it shows the devastating effects of a high speed ball striking the head region. But there are other numerous incidents of batsmen getting badly hurt by fast short-pitched deliveries.
Correct technique in playing the short ball is very important to be taught from a very early age. Let’s look at what a batsman can do when subjected to a bouncer that is travelling at great speed towards his head.
- Duck under the ball
- Sway away from the line of the ball
- Pull or hook the ball, or
- Cut the ball
Every one of the above alternatives requires a great amount of practice, training and technique. The most important of them all is the often repeated adage: never take the eye off the ball. The human instinct and reflex will almost always ensure that the body reacts appropriately if it can see the path of the ball to the very last split second.
Despite all the skills, the element of danger is still clear and present. A very slight lapse in concentration, a wrong bodily move, a wrong shot-selection or a simple ‘eye-off-the-ball’ can end in catastrophic results.
Moreover, although helmets can protect in some situations, they are not foolproof. They merely give the batsmen a false sense of comfort and overconfidence, and therein lies the danger. Batsmen are generally said to have only around 0.4 seconds of reaction time to avoid being hit by a short-pitched delivery.
Sometimes the mind can refuse to react quickly enough depending on the situation - the mind might be fatigued due to tiredness from a long innings, an untimely bat of an eyelid due to a speck of dust, an ill timed flash of sunlight - it could be anything!
I can hear many people arguing that a bouncer is part of the game, and that it will take away the ‘combative’ nature of the game. And that it has been an essential part of the game all through its history. Nothing untoward, outside of a stray incident, over all these years has ever happened is the argument.
Batsmen have forgotten the art of leaving the short ball
I disagree. Test players of olden times, in fact even as late as the nineties, had the choice to leave a short ball alone. Yes, it demanded good technique to duck or pull away, but they had the option to ‘not’ offer a shot. What changed the paradigm completely is Twenty20 (T20) cricket, where every ball counts. A batsman is pressured to play a big shot against every ball that is bowled. This is where a well-directed short-pitched ball can prove to be lethal.
Moreover, T20 cricket has changed how other forms of the game are played in recent times. Batsmen take more risks to score quickly and hence 300+ scores in one-dayers, which did not at all happen often until the turn of this century, and 3-day Test matches, where batsmen play in an attacking style and are in no mood to stick it out. Tests demand both cricketing skills and character skills, whereas the present day instant varieties need only cricketing skills.
So the pressure of not conceding a dot ball has immensely changed how a batsman reacts to a short-pitched ball travelling at a high speed towards his face. Danger lurks!
Time for a change in laws?
Cricket is all about batsmen scoring runs and bowlers trying to take wickets. A fast bowler can use all types of techniques to get rid of a batsman – there is a huge range of variations that can be deployed. But a short pitched delivery aimed at the head should not be one of them. It is intimidatory bowling with the threat of bodily harm, thereby either forcing a false shot or actual bodily harm.
There is a fine line between taking a wicket and threatening to cause extreme harm. That fine line should never be crossed. Bouncers are a form of extreme sledging, the only difference is that it is in action rather than words.
That is why you have rules against head-high tackles in rugby, high sticking in hockey, rabbit punch (blow to the neck or base of the skull) in boxing, and a raised foot in football.
The head should be protected at all costs because it can result in fatal injuries. Therefore, short-pitched bowling above shoulder height should be banned in cricket. Cricket is a team sport where emotions can run high on the field, and there is a huge potential for tragic accidents when a charged up fast bowler steams in and hurls a ball at a very high speed towards the head of a batsman.
In the heat of the moment, it could lead to tragic situations, even though the bowler, when reflecting back, is probably the first to recognise the danger he is causing with the ball. Although in real match situations, most fast bowlers seem to wear it as a badge of honour when they physically hurt the batsman.
All the hubris regarding “chin music”, and statements such as “knock his block off”, “roughing up”, etc. are nothing but misplaced arrogance and have no place in the sport.
Cricket has changed over the years, so should the rules. By all means, tighten the rules around batsmen scoring freely, and there are other ways to give bowlers more freedom and clout.
But let’s put an end to this primitive and gladiatorial element in an otherwise gentlemanly game before someone else is seriously hurt.