There are times when I sit down and watch black and white, grainy images from cricket matches being played some 30-40 years ago. The batsmen, without any helmet, arm guard and pads so thin that they are virtually non-existent makes me cringe a little bit. So used to I am to seeing the modern batsmen wear every protective gear available that watching the highlights reel from 30 years ago almost gives me the feeling of watching something very different and special. The impact of protective gear on cricket is immense and is there for all to see.
The batsmen of the yesteryears were a brave lot. When you consider that those batsmen faced some of the fastest bowlers to have ever played the game, you are putting the things in to perspective. Vivian Richards, Clive Llyod, Sunil Gavaskar, the Chappel brothers and Barry Richards faced bowlers like Michael Holding, Roberts, Garner, Lilee, Hadlee etc. These players were never hurt or at least I do not know of any serious injury having occurred to players who played without any safety gear. They surely must have possessed a far greater technique in negotiating the short and fast ball. Instinct must have played a part too, they knew that if they missed the ball they risked their life.
The modern batsmen are a spoilt lot. They have bigger, heavier bats, short boundaries, flat pitches, most of the rules favouring them and they have all the protection on them which makes them fearless. They are not shy to take their eyes of the ball knowing that at best it will thud in to their helmets, not resulting any serious injury. They are not so skilled that they can even imagine to bat against a medium fast bowler without a helmet on. But these protective gear has certainly resulted in batsmen with lesser technique also flourish.
Although the Phil Hughes incident raised several questions on the helmets that were in use, it also brought in to spotlight on the inferior techniques that the batsmen of the modern era displayed. Mind you, Phil was wearing a helmet while he was batting and it was extremely unlucky and a freakish incident that the whole cricket had to mourn the death of the young talent. Now we have helmets which protect the neck area as well, the part where Phil was stuck.
I can only imagine the fear that the batsmen must have had in the Bodyline series. They must have been a courageous lot to go out there and face the ultra-quick bowlers knowing that they would be aiming at their heads. The pitches were also uncovered at the time thus making life all the more difficult. In today’s world everyone wears a helmet, the wicketkeeper, the close-in fielders and recently even some umpires have started wearing them. I think the day is not far when a cover or point fielder will also wear a helmet so as to feel safe. All the safety gear has certainly had an immense impact on how cricket has changed over the years.