Skip to content



That helmets have made a difference to cricket is beyond dispute. At Test match level, no less a luminary than Michael Atherton says that batting performances “before” and “after” are simply not comparable. So what has changed?
Those batsmen who have played all their lives in a helmet have never had to learn the skills that we bare headed batsmen were forced to acquire from day one. It was drilled into us to “ALWAYS” keep our eye on the ball. Ducking the head was the preserve of tail-enders only. I can recall very few nasty blows to the head in pre-helmet days. Nowadays it is a rare day of Test cricket which passes without the ball cannoning off helmets as batsmen take their eyes off the ball and duck. Then comes the obligatory testing for concussion symptoms, possible replacement pf the helmet. They really are a pain in the neck, in more ways than one.
Sometimes people suggest that bowlers are faster these days which I dispute. There were no helmets when England faced the great Australian “Tommo”, once timed at 100 mph. Nor when the Australians were put to the sword by the fearsome Frank Tyson in 1954. And even if those critics are right, I will remind them that under the old lbw law, before the front foot rule, the ball was released from 3 to 4 feet closer than now. Especially by the draggers. That gave them an added advantage of getting more bounce off the pitch. The most extreme example was the very tall Australian Test bowler Gordon Rorke in 1958 whose skid marks from the “drag” extended right through the batting crease with his front foot landing another SEVEN feet further on.
So how did helmets creep into the game? When Mike Brearley walked out to bat at Lord’s with a prototype contraption covering his temples,I thought it was just a one-off by a player who obviously had no faith in his own technique. But it may have been the thin end of the wedge
A change in the lbw law was also critical. This allowed an l.b.w decision against a batsman playing no stroke, even if the point of impact was outside the line of the stumps. This was a well meaning attempt to stop batsmen simply padding away spinners with impunity. What it actually did was to benefit the quicker bowlers slanting in from wide of the crease. However this “advantage” was soon balanced by the front foot law. Nevertheless, right or wrong, batsmen felt they had to play forward more, putting their heads in danger. Hence the dreaded helmet. And there is at least one unintended downside.
From a spectators point of view there is a lack of connection between the audience and the player. It is hard enough to know who is at which end, even on TV. From the boundary, nigh on impossible. The only batsman I recall batting without a helmet was the then Captain of the West Indies. Richie Richardson. He wore just a wide brimmed white sun hat and, as a fine hooker of the ball he never ever looked in the lightest danger. Would I have switched to a helmet? I really don’t know. If there was the slightest chance of it impairing my batting - the answer is no. I might have tried one - and then, who knows? It would certainly have improved my playing of slow bowling because I could have practised sweeping without fear of getting a top edge in my face. The ability to sweep is a key part modern batting skills and I would love to have had that in my armoury.
The next time I saw a “helmet” - actually it looked more fitting for a motorcyclist- was a West Indies Tour match against Derbyshire. I had no clue about the identity of the home team batsman protected by a huge heavy duty plastic wrap around visor. The pitch was quick and bouncy and the West Indian fast bowlers were letting loose.
Half a dozen times the ball simply bounced off the face guard and the batsman continued serenely without a sign of any injury. I honestly thought that the days of short-pitched fast bowling were numbered. But I was wrong. Fast bowlers still dominate Test cricket in UK other than on India’s slower, turning pitches.The reason seems to be that batsmen have altered their technique - and not for the better.
What made modern batsmen pick the bat up before the ball is bowled is a bit of a mystery.
And I find it hard to raise an argument in it’s favour. It may help the less talented ones but not much more than that. The most noticeable change is in the stance and head position. Feet wide apart, bat raised and the head upright peering through the bars of the helmet. Here I do argue the toss.
The most obvious flaw is the lack of lateral movement of the feet. Secondly the shoulders are already turned making it much harder to bring the bat down straight. The natural timing that came with swinging the bat up and down is lost. Just as well for some players that the new “super bats” are more forgiving than of old.
There are pluses and minuses when it comes to pulling and hooking. Protected by the helmet these strokes can now be made in front of the face. We always had to get inside the line which made it easier to judge the ones to play or leave alone. All of which would be acceptable if the helmet actually did what it is supposed to do - protect from injury.
Actually there are more injuries, not less. There is the tragic case of the young Australian who was killed by a blow behind the ear. He went to hook, head in line, turned away in the process and paid a dreadful price. This prompted further protective add-ons at the back of the neck which may or may not do what they are supposed to do. The Australian Captain Smith was not wearing these when he was pole-axed, flat on his face in 2019 at Lord’s by Joffre Archer. It has also been put to me that batting with the eyes canted at 30 degrees - as I did and most of the past Test batsmen did - is no longer an option with the face bars straight across. I further doubt the validity of this because we all know when we peer through a wire mesh fence that the closer we get the less we can see the wires.
I remember when I first saw it written that the eyes must be level in the stance. Tell that to Jack Hobbs or Wally Hammond. It was in a little coaching strip in some newspaper under the name of the greatest of wicket-keepers Alan Knott - an unorthodox but talented lower order England run scorer. I asked Alan a supplementary question - does that mean that the two eyes have to be equidistant from the approaching ball? He had no answer even if he had the slightest clue what I was talking about.
It was really a tease, because I went on to shred the need for level eyes in ball games. Citing the fastest ball game in the world ie Rackets where the best players will still middle the ball with their heads down, sideways and every other way. They certainly do not wear helmets. Maybe they and squash players should in fact wear goggles because the balls, hard in rackets and softer in squash are small enough to penetrate the eye socket. There have been blinded players. For all I know, perhaps they do wear some sort of protection.
Going back to batting, there will always be genii like Smith and Kohli who defy all the rules and, who knows, there may be a host of schoolboy batsmen who are already copying them successfully. Aesthetically Smith looks a mess unlike Kohli who is more orthodox but who gains advantage from his helmet by standing a yard outside his crease. I have not seen him face the current Australian attack on hard pitches. That could be a titanic clash, indeed.


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
To leave a comment you must approve it via e-mail, which will be sent to your address after submission.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options