Hughes tragedy will 'change cricket safety'
Cricket companies have already begun working on designs to improve helmet safety after the tragic death of Phillip Hughes last week.
Hughes was fighting to retain his place in Australia’s side during the Sheffield Shield match in Sydney, but was hit on the top of the neck by a delivery from 22-year-old Sean Abbott and never regained consciousness.
This was an unparalleled incident and one that cricket manufacturers believe will revolutionise cricket protection.
Steve Turnock, Director of Hunts County Bats Limited, told the Sports Gazette: “It’s been an Ayrton Senna moment and it will change the way cricket helmets are designed and produced, in the same way cockpits were changed after Senna was killed. I think it’s a real point of change.
“There will be a lot of people making sketches right now. I’ve already spoken to our manufacturer in India about it. Unfortunately it’s taken a tragic incident to change things.”
Cricket helmets have to pass stringent tests set by the British Standards Institution, however, the improvements over the last few years have focused on the front and the grill of the helmet rather than the back and the neck.
This is certainly set to change and former England captain Nasser Hussain is one of many former professionals who has recently called for increased safety standards.
“You have to think about ways of improving the helmet all the time, balancing protection with being able to move and see the ball,” he said.
“Putting bits on the neck is an area we’ve never thought about. We were always told to protect the temple, but were never really concerned about the neck. The instinct to get out of the way of a bouncer is to turn away.”
Skull caps, worn inside the helmet, have been considered, while head-and-neck restraints, made compulsory in motor racing by the International Automobile Federation in 2009, are a potential avenue for cricket manufacturers to explore.
“You’ve got to try and come up with something that’s workable and protective,” Turnock said.
“You’re never going to be 100 per cent safe in any sport. All you can do is to try and make it as safe as possible and cut out as much risk as you can.
“We've started to look at ways to extend the protection. The area I think it could be made safer is some sort of adaption of the HANS device that F1 drivers use to hold their heads in position. Maybe something like that can be adapted, but it really does restrict movement.
“You don’t want to wear something that’s going to restrict you and make you more likely to be hit.”
Former England Under-19 international Chris Taylor, who now works as a cricket retailer, reiterated the problem regarding freedom of movement.
“Once the helmet starts trying to cover the neck as well, it’s going to restrict movement as a batsman,” he said.
“You need to be able to move quickly so if it's restricting your head and your neck, we could get to the stage where you just wear full body armour because at the end of the day you can get a blow on your chest that can cause you serious problems.”
It is not only practical problems that manufacturers face. According to Brendan Denning, chief executive of Albion, innovations in protection are compromised by players and supporters with traditional values.
“The ability of manufacturers to innovate is reliant on players embracing new technology and they are very, very traditional in cricket,” he said.
“At the moment, we make incremental changes while trying not to upset the traditionalists. Other sports, like horse racing, more readily accept that injury is an issue.”
Steve Turnock also claimed the “conventional and traditional” nature of the sport has resulted in a reluctance to accept the evolutions in cricket equipment, but he believes Hughes’ death will eradicate this theme.
The exact direction cricket manufacturers will take in an attempt to enhance helmet safety measures is currently unknown. What is highly probable, however, is that a revolution in the production of cricket helmets awaits.