Hughes’s demise and thousands of questions thereafter

Predictably, some cricket folk are calling the blow that killed this talented young sportsman “a fluke” and “one chance in a million” but that is not good enough. We must — mustn’t we — take every precaution against such outside chances, writes Ted Corbett.

Bless them, within an hour or two of the death of Phillip Hughes, officials were holding planned meetings at Lord’s and changing the schedule so that they could have a minutes’ silence and then discuss how to avoid further such heart-rending incidents.

They were right to grieve and to discuss the future of the loveliest game of all and we must not blame people like the hard-working administrators for this terrible accident.

Predictably, some cricket folk are calling the blow that killed this talented young sportsman “a fluke” and “one chance in a million” but that is not good enough. We must — mustn’t we — take every precaution against such outside chances.

So it is time to look to the future and I offer as evidence the fact that forty phone calls rang into Lord’s that morning. Not from professional cricketers, or their coaches but from parents of promising teenagers, lads who were learning to love the game, who had shown promise and who might not consider their youth complete unless, next summer, they could follow the path trodden by Hughes and Bradman, Trueman and Tyson, Tufnell and any one of a thousand lads who turned embryonic talent into a Test cap.

Those parents were worried, and no-one can blame them. They saw a day when their 12-year-old might be 14, might be by chance asked to step into the first team — “throw them in at the deep end” is the stupidest saying in sport — because someone failed to turn up for a game or the selectors fancied giving one of the lads a chance.

What will happen if some over-enthusiastic fast bowler lets fly a bouncer at my little lad and in the panic of the moment he is hit like Hughes?

Will he have better protection? Have you made provisions for medical help if that unthinkable moment comes along? Is he insured? Should I let him continue in this dangerous game? “Don’t tell me of the thousands who play every week without incident; we have seen what can happen,” cried one father. There is no guarantee it will not happen again, is there?

Those and a thousand other questions have sprung to mind recently that never crossed anyone’s imagination the week-end before Phillip Hughes decided the next ball was the one to hook. Now we must have answers.

Already there are 64,000 fewer players in my country this year than last year — and that was a fact before the accident in Sydney. ECB have decided on a campaign to popularise cricket for girls and women; I wonder how that will go. First we need leadership and in the past ICC have lacked that essential of a world body. I have mocked them in the past as the slowest organisation ever to be led by a man called Malcolm Speed but now we must forget all those easy jibes.

We must hope that decent men like Dave Richardson, once a laconic South African wicketkeeper, now a leading figure at the ICC headquarters in Dubai, will show the way towards better helmets and an inquiry into the state of the game as it has changed in the last month. I hear that some manufacturers have already been consulted and that ideas are in the pipeline. Youngsters have been forced to wear helmets for several years and that is a welcome sign of caring administration but the death of Hughes has had such an impact both on the professional game and among those on the fringes of all sports that there must be a follow-up.

A sportswriter has opined that cricket will not be the same game, or a great contest and a challenge if aggressive fast bowling is taken out of the reckoning. I know it is part of the reason many players take up cricket.

At the height of the West Indies fast bowling era, one of the lesser England batsmen revealed his thinking to me. “It’s ok,” he said in the safety of the dressing room. “You pop on a helmet and all the body armour and the pads and a hefty pair of boots and you feel safe when the ball goes rushing past your ears.”

Of course in that series no England player lasted any length of time — although David Gower batted seven hours in an attempt to save the final Test — and West Indies won the series 5-0 without the need for any of their queue of fast men having to take five wickets in an innings.

Malcolm Marshall sent a ball ripping through Mike Gatting’s defence and reduced his face to a raw mess that changed his youthful good looks to an expression of pained surprise but — and this is worth noting — Gatting went home for treatment but returned to the tour.

Brave? Yes, but although he knew there was an accident waiting to happen, he loved cricket so much he was willing to risk another blow. So will many others. The spirit of the matador still exists within cricket.

It is not just about the Gower cover drive, Ranji’s leg glance, the on-drive as played by Gooch and Trescothick; not just about Warne’s big turn and Murali’s flight; Jack Russell’s speed of hand and the miracles attempted by Jonty Rhodes.

Bless them, it is also about the bravery of the next man to bat in a Test against a bunch of fast men, or field at short leg. Their task is the harder since Hughes passed away but they will not flinch and it is our duty to protect them in their daring.