Bracing for bouncers
With both sides having bowlers who can unleash ferocious snorters, helmet-smashing deliveries to play a big part in the upcoming Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Cricket is now largely known to be the batsman’s game. It’s all about how many runs were scored and who hit a century of the least balls, and even the crowd that attends matches is present largely because of the six-factor. A batsman clobbering the ball into the stands is a sight much more joyous to the crowd than a bowler ripping out the stumps of the batsman.
But out there on the pitch, the batsman feels the heat of the battle just as much as the bowler. Searing yorkers, wildly swinging good length deliveries, and fearsome and brutal bouncers are just some of the challenges the man with the bat has to face. The atmosphere changes altogether when it comes to Test cricket. Cricket’s purest form brings a whole different persona of the players to the table. Bouncers, of course, are a fast bowler’s most deadly weapon. Just a couple of 140kmph+ snorters whizzing past the batsman’s nose, and he knows he’s in for a long day at the crease. Former Aussie pace spearhead Jeff Thomson, one of the fastest bowlers of all time, once himself remarked, “I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch.” This pretty much explains every fast bowler’s mindset when he’s in the rhythm and is bowling at a serious pace. Even the world’s best batsmen have been brought down on their haunches right after the leather ball struck them on the body.
After a good day of Test cricket batting, a batsman could well find bruises on every part of his body not protected by protective gear. Helmets often undergo massive torture as the ball frequently thuds into them, sometimes breaking away parts of it too. Even though the helmet does its job in protecting the batsman from potential death, the chest, torso, neck and arms are still largely unprotected and have to fend for themselves. Broken bones, dislocated shoulders, concussions, and bloody noses is a sight we get to see rather frequently in Test cricket, courtesy the bouncer. Due to the lethality of this delivery, it has been cut down to two bouncers per over in limited overs cricket, but in Tests, the bowler is free to let go of as many short-pitched ones as he likes.
The bouncer will play a big part in the upcoming Border-Gavaskar Trophy, as both the Indians as well as the Australians have bowlers who can unleash helmet-smashing bouncers at a vicious pace. Mohammed Shami, India’s best short ball bowler, will be India’s go-to man when it comes to terrorising the Aussie batsmen a little bit, while Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav wouldn’t be too far behind. With the Australians having the World’s №1 Test bowler Pat Cummins, and Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in their arsenal, it is set to be a mouth watering yet aggressive series.
Plenty of renowned veterans of the game have had their fair share of bouncers during their playing days, and the tradition to frighten the batsman hasn’t faded a bit. Bodyline, put into effect by the England team in the 1932–33 Ashes tour of Australia, remains one of the more discussed topics in cricketing history even today. English captain Douglas Jardine came up with the idea to bowl short and at the body of the Australians, in an attempt to injure them and restrict their scoring. The plan was formulated mainly to counter the incredible batting ability of Don Bradman, who at the time was at his peak. Harold Larwood was the central executioner of this plan of attack. Bodyline bowling was coupled with a strong leg theory field, the intention being that the batsman would fend away the ball climbing up onto his chest, only to spring up a catch to the leg side.
The tactic was largely condemned by the Australians as well as the fans, while some English players and officials weren’t happy with it as they thought it was unfair and didn’t uphold the spirit of the game. But Jardine was adamant that he wanted to continue with bouncers, and one delivery bowled by Larwood struck Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield on the head, fracturing his skull, while Bradman and captain Bill Woodfull were subjected to significant short ball barrages as well. This master plan resulted in a lopsided 4–1 series victory for the England team. Bradman was kept under control by this tactic as he managed 396 runs from the four Tests he played. Though still a lot, it was much less than what was expected of him. Larwood was the highest wicket taker of the series with 33 scalps, while the top run getters Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe scored 440 runs each.
The West Indies team of the 1970s and 1980s boasted arguably the greatest bowling lineup of all time. Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts made the pitch a living hell for opposition batsmen. During an India-West Indies Test series in 1976, Indian batsman Anshuman Gaekwad was struck on the ear by a lightning quick Michael Holding bouncer when on 81. Blood was everywhere and Gaekwad was taken to the hospital where he spent two days in the ICU and has hearing problems to this day. India batsman Nari Contractor’s whole career was ended as the result of a bouncer bowled by West Indian Charlie Griffith that fractured his skull and paralyzed him from the waist down in 1962. During the 2005 Ashes series, Australian captain Ricky Ponting had his cheek cut open by a brutal Steve Harmison delivery, something still fresh in most cricket fans’ minds. Another horrifying incident that comes to mind is Aussie Brett Lee’s bouncer to Englishman Alex Tudor during the 2002 Ashes. A sickening blow to the head resulted in Tudor being stretchered off the field and flown back to England for treatment. English pace veteran Stuart Broad hasn’t held his bat the same way since he had his nose smashed by India paceman Varun Aaron during a 2014 Test. Since then, there is always a sense of fear in Broad’s eyes when he walks out to bat.
But the most shocking and saddening incident that came to the fore due to a bouncer would be the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes. On 25th November 2014, playing in a first-class match, Hughes was hit on the neck just below his left ear after a failed attempted hook shot off bowler Sean Abbott. Hughes collapsed on the field and subsequently went into a coma. Two days later, on 27th November 2014, Hughes died due to the injuries, sending shockwaves across the globe.
The Border-Gavaskar trophy could see plenty of bouncers flying over the batsmen’s heads and some thudding into their body, and those several instances of bowlers bouncing out batsmen will come back into mind. The ferocious pace and bounce on offer at the Gabba in Brisbane is a heavenly sight for any pacer, and the likes of Cummins and Starc will be raring to get the ball springing off the pitch. Shami and Bumrah will be excited to have a go at Aussie Will Pucovski too, as the youngster has a history of vulnerability against the short ball, and was struck on the head yet again in the recent practice match. Time and again, Cummins will let go of a menacing short ball aimed at the head of India’s Cheteshwar Pujara. Will the batsman duck it? Will he cop it on the helmet? Will he hook it for four over long leg? The battlefield is ready, and so are the players.