Absolute safety impossible

Can the fatal freak injury of the kind Phillip Hughes suffered be avoided?

The answer is no. Although the manufacturer of the helmet Hughes was wearing that fateful day claimed its latest models did cover the neck, this can only be viewed in relative terms.

If helmets guard the entire neck, then a batsman, as former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath pointed out, might encounter serious problems in moving his head as he faced up to a delivery. This could expose the player to injuries of a different kind apart from limiting him as a batsman.

The neck is a particularly vulnerable area that carries blood to the brain through two major arteries. This is where the lifting ball struck Hughes as he went too early into a pull and missed the ball. Although it is rare for a left-hander to be struck under his left ear, the impact was severe.

Dr. M. Balamurugan, a neurosurgeon at the Apollo Hospital, explained to Sportstar, "The brain gets its blood supply from two main arteries, one at the front of the neck, the carotid artery, and another at the back, the vertebral artery."

When Hughes' vertebral artery was damaged, his chances of survival were not more that 10 per cent since the blood's path to the brain was blocked.

The ball, on occasions, has also crashed into a batsman's visage between the top of the helmet and the grill. Again, lowering the top of the helmet or raising the level of the grill could hamper a batsman's vision, a dangerous scenario.

As Srinath put it, "What would you do if the batsman strikes the ball back hard and it crashes into the bowler's head? Would you want bowlers too to wear helmets?"

Given the nature of the ball and the speed at which it is often bowled or hit, an element of risk will always be associated with cricket.

S. Dinakar