Thursday, November 27, 2014

The pursuit of safety

Is often counterproductive, as was seen in the accidental death of the young EnglishAustralian cricketer, Phil Hughes:
Most of my career I batted on uncovered pitches without a helmet. This taught me how important it was to have a good technique and courage against fast bowling. Why? Because you required judgment of what to leave, when to duck and when to play the ball. But you had to be even more careful about attempting to hook because at the back of your mind you knew that if you made a mistake you could get seriously hurt.

I once asked Len Hutton, a great iconic player, whether he hooked Ray Lindwall or Keith Miller. He said he once tried it at the Oval and he got halfway through the shot then cut it out because out of the corner of his eye he could see the hospital. That tells you everything.

Before the advent of helmets in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in the late 1970s, if a team had a genuine fast bowler, tail-enders did not hang around. You did not see tail-enders propping and copping. They played shots or got out because at the back of their mind they were terrified of being hurt.

Helmets have unfortunately now taken away a lot of that fear and have given every batsman a false sense of security. They feel safe and people will now attempt to either pull or hook almost every short ball that is bowled at them.

Even tail-enders come in and bat like millionaires, flailing away and having a go at short balls with poor technique and a lack of footwork. Helmets have made batsmen feel safe in the belief that they cannot be hurt and made batsmen more carefree and careless. As a consequence more players get hit on the helmet nowadays than ever got hit on the head, before we batted without this protection.
This is true in the broader historical culture as well as the world of sport. We attempt to protect our women and children, to ensconce them in a rubber-and-plastic safety bubble that will keep them from all harm, forgetting that in protecting them from the petty dangers, they tend to forget about the existence of the more serious ones.

It is when we feel invulnerable that we are most susceptible to being taught otherwise.

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Blogger Jamie-R November 27, 2014 4:30 AM  

He wasn't English, you dick. He's an Aussie.

Blogger pdwalker November 27, 2014 4:54 AM  

This is what happens when you let women set the rules.

Blogger SRBEL November 27, 2014 4:59 AM  

Vox, I agree with your sentiment, but a couple of things need to be pointed out here, not least of which he was an Australian.

Hughes was by no means a tail ender trying to play like a millionaire. He was an accomplished opening batsman with an excellent technique and had scored over 9000 first class runs. When struck he was on 63 runs, and looked comfortable and in control by all reports. This was nothing more than a freak accident.

In each form of cricket the "bouncer" delivery is limited in number by strict regulations. Hughes was known to be weak against bouncers, thus was targeted. This is an integral part of the beautiful psychological battle that comprises such a large part of cricket.

The reaction in Australia has not been knee-jerk so far. The wider public has a good understanding of cricket and recognise this as a tragic accident which more regulation would fail to prevent. Much the same can be said of the Rugby League administration taking a zero tolerance policy on fighting. "Men play dangerous games, let them at it" is the general sentiment here Down Under.

Anonymous Earl November 27, 2014 4:59 AM  

Helmets are kinda like rape

Blogger ChicagoRefugee November 27, 2014 5:23 AM  

Shhhh - let's see if anyone notices that Mr. Hughs has just explained why the increasing availability of condoms doesn't seem to result in a corresponding decrease in STDs.

Anonymous kh123 November 27, 2014 5:33 AM  

Seem to recall this was the very point that Gara had his epiphany on behavior being effected while simultaneously not being effected by a significant change in risk dynamics. What's real world experience when you can entertain a paradox that keeps putting off tomorrow.

Anonymous VD November 27, 2014 5:58 AM  

This was nothing more than a freak accident.

Obviously. But the point the old cricketer is making is that younger players are willing to accept more risks in the erroneous belief that they are risk-free. If such an accident can happen even to a highly accomplished professional, it can obviously happen to those who are much less able to deal with similar situations as well.

It has been pointed out that it is possible there would be fewer concussions in the NFL if players were to go back to wearing the old leather helmets rather than the hard plastic ones that now "protect" their heads.

Anonymous zen0 November 27, 2014 6:12 AM  

As one who subscribes to the "Things are going well for me, something bad is going to happen" school, the example of this type of thing that particularlyI enjoy is the injuries suffered during excessive on-field celebration.

Anonymous aaaturkey November 27, 2014 6:23 AM  

The old cricketer doesn't know what he is talking about tbh. His main issue here seems to be his disgust with sloggers in the lower order who swing wildly at the ball to hit the ball long, rather than play the more proper orthodox cricket strokes. This all further ties into the debate of the traditional test match (5 day games) vs the shorter and more action packed Twenty20 (over in 3 hours).

Huges himself was a legitimate opener who only every excelled at the longer variants of cricket. This event was an absolute tragedy caused more by his natural reflexes and instincts (and poor technique sadly) than any bravado from a feeling of invincibility.

It's not at all like the NFL helmet situation where helmets there certainly cause players to become more reckless than they ought to be due to a misconception of invincibility;

Blogger Tom Kratman November 27, 2014 6:38 AM
At page 10.

Blogger buzzardist November 27, 2014 6:43 AM  

We've seen the same in other sports. American football has reduced a lot of the lost teeth and other relatively minor injuries that marked the years before there were hard helmets and heavy pads. The pads encourage players to hit harder, and so we've seen a lot of other, more serious injuries become more common.

In baseball, too, body armor in the batter's box has led to more players crowding home plate. Barry Bonds used this, in addition to doping, to great advantage toward the end of his career. But hanging your head over home plate does make it somewhat more likely that a rising fastball might catch you square in the unprotected face.

But, hey, these are all professional athletes. They choose to do what they do. I'm not particularly concerned with the risks that they choose to take. They're getting paid to take them. What is disturbing is the parenting trend of protecting children from any danger or natural consequence. This is ruining a generation.

That Rolling Stone article last week about the girl who got gang raped at UVA is case in point. She stated outright that she was trying to do something a little risky by going to this frat party because it was in rebellion against her parents, who kept her from such risks. In this case, her parents would have been right to tell the girl to steer clear of the party, but it seemed obvious that the girl hadn't learned some smaller lessons in consequences along the way to be able to discern risks herself and to know when her parents' nagging voices in the back of her head might be right.

Blogger Jamie-R November 27, 2014 7:01 AM  

One of the reasons I stopped playing cricket is because it wasn't fun batting as you got older. I played Under 14s, then a few games of Under 16s, and I was done. Corked thighs in practice and limping for a few days at 15 years of age wasn't my idea of sport. Looking back, I was lucky I had no broken ribs. The bowlers would target you in district cricket. If you had words with them, it took on a darker tone when they bounced one at your body. Phil Hughes had issues with short balls, so he wound up copping more of them, and to try and prove them wrong he ended up being struck in the head and dying young. Of all the sports I've played, I found rugby and Aussie Rules safer than cricket. My son won't be playing it.

Anonymous Peter Garstig November 27, 2014 7:06 AM  

Added safety/security increases the probability of a Black Swan event, even if it just means a recategorisation of the event. Taleb has made a living out of this.

Anonymous Idle Spectator November 27, 2014 7:15 AM  

I didn't play cricket because it is gay.

Anonymous PhillipGeorge(c)2014 November 27, 2014 7:30 AM  

Journos seem "under pressure" to make every story seem, "sexy, scientific, well reasoned".
He reached the pinnacle of the game, did what he enjoyed, died young.

Near Horsham a few month ago a rock climber made a mistake and died. You don't remember his name. The Arapiles are a popular granite wall rock climbing attraction. He was thirty, doing what he loved, died young, with a head injury.

The West wants to sanitize every death, cancel it, make it all preventable. Make it have bigger meaning.

Everyone still grappling with an inevitable; "for whom the bell tolls....."
Rest In Peace Phil Hughes.

Anonymous Anonymous November 27, 2014 7:32 AM  

Idle Spectator. Perhaps it is you who is the one who is gay. So there.

Cricket is a sport for civilised men. No wonder you seem unable to appreciate it.

Blogger Northern Hamlet November 27, 2014 8:42 AM  


I can't believe I'm asking this.

Do you... watch cricket?

Anonymous Anonymous November 27, 2014 8:47 AM  

I play cricket, in Australia. This weekend we've been asked to wear black armbands and perform a minute's silence before the game.

At the club last night there was great discussion on whether the bouncer should be banned. I couldn't be bothered entering the conversation. I just despaired that they were even having it.

Anonymous VD November 27, 2014 8:54 AM  

Do you... watch cricket?

Not a bit of it.

Blogger bearspaw November 27, 2014 9:09 AM  

Nothing better than watching Dale Steyn make a batsman duck for his life.

Blogger Nate November 27, 2014 10:20 AM  

This same principle can be seen in boxing. Barenuckles boxing looks bloody and barbaric... but it is in fact far safer than boxing with gloves.


because in barenuckles boxing you can't take those big looping hooks. If you do, you're going to break your hand on your opponent's skull and then you're done.

And its those big hooks where the long term mental damage actually comes from. So by putting the gloves on they have actually made the most dangerous forms of strikes far more likely.

Football would also be far safer if they took the pads off.

Anonymous Big Gay Steve November 27, 2014 10:35 AM  

Idle Spectator I can tell you cricket is less gay than basket ball or US football. Dennis Rodman & his boys made up all the blacks seen in gay bars in San Antonio.

Blogger Hunsdon November 27, 2014 10:43 AM  

Nate said: Football would also be far safer if they took the pads off.

Hunsdon said: This. Helmets, too---with the additional advantage of being able to recognize players more easily.

Anonymous bob k. mando November 27, 2014 11:13 AM  

Tom Kratman November 27, 2014 6:38 AM
At page 10.

since many of the pages in the pdf are not numbered AND the pdf numbering does not conform to publication page number, it may be useful for people to know to look at pg12 according to Adobe.

Anonymous fish November 27, 2014 11:21 AM  


I can't believe I'm asking this.

Do you... watch cricket?

A man should only have enough spare time in his life for one boring sport. I think we all know what that is for our host.

Anonymous Titus Didius Tacitus November 27, 2014 11:21 AM  

Rest In Peace Phil Hughes.

Blogger Ghost November 27, 2014 11:31 AM  

"Cricket? Nobody understand cricket! You got to know what a crumpet is to understand cricket." - Raphael

Blogger Tom Kratman November 27, 2014 11:34 AM  

Thanks, Bob.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera November 27, 2014 11:40 AM  

Happy Thanksgiving. And thanks Vox for the reminder about those rules.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera November 27, 2014 11:42 AM  

Okay, I'm starting to think this commenting thing is just a symptom of regular ol' mass psychosis. You know, like that whole Jesus thing, which any educated man knows is totally symbolic unless he is being tortured to death, in which case it's understandable if he wants to keep the Big Joke going.

Anonymous Rolf November 27, 2014 12:38 PM  

My brother always thought the best way to teach new drivers to be safe drivers was to mount a spear-point in the middle of the steering wheel instead of an airbag. Make the driver think that running into something will get them impaled, and thus realize that the steel and plastic cage they are wrapped in does NOT make them immortal or invincible.

I learned to drive in a Geo Metro, a car that was little more than a powered roller skate, with a screaming one-liter, three cylinder engine. 60 MPG on a good day, 52 on a bad one. I *knew* I was the smallest car on the road. I think even some of the motorcycles weighed more. I learned to drive carefully and well, and 30 years, hundreds of thousands of miles, and two totaled cars later, I've never been in a traffic accident that was my fault.

Safety is more about attitude and education than "things."

Blogger tweell November 27, 2014 12:51 PM  

The point itself is a good one. I once forgot my protective pants when heading to fencing practice, and only had a pair of shorts. I got perceptively better at parrying in that region during that single practice, before then I would simply ignore those attacks as not counting.

Alas, my instructor, while agreeing that I had gotten much better at p7 and p8, would not let me go without chest, arm or head protection. Sigh.

Anonymous pseudotsuga November 27, 2014 1:57 PM  

This is the sentiment that leads to the notion of children wearing helmets while playing soccer and field hockey (at Princeton, NJ--not the college)

Anonymous HalibetLector November 27, 2014 2:40 PM  

We've seen the same in other sports. American football has reduced a lot of the lost teeth and other relatively minor injuries that marked the years before there were hard helmets and heavy pads.

I can attest to that. By the time I stopped playing football in 2001, everyone I played with had suffered at least one concussion (that we could remember) and an especially aggressive teammate blew his knee out so bad he was walking with a cane at the age of 16. The rest of us have permanent joint and cartilege damage in various places that made us feel like old men before we were even allowed to join the military.

Football would also be far safer if they took the pads off.

Agreed. I played rugby in college. Much safer.

Blogger rcocean November 27, 2014 3:41 PM  

taking off the face guards would reduce a lot of serious injuries in Football.

Anonymous Idle Spectator November 27, 2014 4:24 PM  

Idle Spectator. Perhaps it is you who is the one who is gay. So there.


Cricket is a sport for civilised men. No wonder you seem unable to appreciate it.

Civilized. Like interior decorating.

Idle Spectator I can tell you cricket is less gay than basket ball or US football. Dennis Rodman & his boys made up all the blacks seen in gay bars in San Antonio.

That's probably true. Playing is one thing, the pros are another. And the professionals keep getting gayer and gayer every year.

For the fans: stop tattooing their faces on yourself, and stop wearing their jerseys. They don't give a shit about you. They like money. Lots and lots of money.

Anonymous Idle Spectator November 27, 2014 4:39 PM  

"Cricket? Nobody understand cricket! You got to know what a crumpet is to understand cricket." - Raphael

Sports Night on Cricket

Ten wickets in one inning!

"What does that mean?"
"I don't know."

Anonymous jayb November 27, 2014 6:13 PM  

Jamie-R, if you think Rugby and AFL (or Soccer) are safer than cricket, you are very wrong. All those footballing codes have far higher rates of soft tissue injuries and deaths (even if they are exceedingly rare). So, if you are looking to limp for a few days after a game, then football is a good choice. The only role in the game of Cricket that has a significant injury rate is that of the fast bowler due to their backs giving way. That's the schocking thing about Hughes' death, every batsman knows that the ball can potentially kill you, but it never* happens. Now, the 'never' has an asterisk with Phil Hughes' name attached to it.

Re: preception of safety vs griping about tailenders taking big swings, the point Boycott is making is that batsman are not only more willing, but they feel compelled by the desire for quick runs to play more pull and hook shots. This is borne out in statistics for runs made with the pull shot, and anecdotally by players admitting they feel much safer and therefore much more likely to play the shot. While good batsmen would keep playing it, trusting in their own skill, the weaker ones would put it away.

Ironically, you are far more likely to be hit in the head by a spin bowler (the slow ones, for those who don't know) because there is more varied bounce, and the batsmen play the sweep shot. Deflections are the most dangerous part of the game for that reason, and keepers using helmets is a sensible move.

Cricket is played between the ears. Part of the excitement comes from the danger, and from sustaining concentration for extended periods of time.

Anonymous JayKayNZ November 27, 2014 6:18 PM  

I, for one, am exceptionally grateful for my cricket helmet without which my skull would have probably been fractured multiple times. Not everyone has the skills necessary to survive (100% of the time) serious injury when facing fast bowling - and if you play cricket, everyone must face it.

So I completely disagree with Vox on this one.

Blogger intuitivereason November 27, 2014 6:31 PM  

Fortunately most of the response to this tragedy has been tempered by the freakish nature of it. From memory, there has only once prior been a death at this level of cricket or above.

That it was Phil Hughes, a natural talent with the bat, just adds to the shock.

I hope the game gets away with just some engineering mods to the helmet. While I appreciate the point regarding practices changing with improved kit, most of those changes have been positive in terms of the challenge and spectacle of the game as well.

You still very much feel a cricket ball through the pads, and a hit to the helmet still leaves players sore.

As to the game, well test cricket is possibly the best background game ever devised. It's the sort of game one can enjoy the presence of without having to commit your attention fully to it. Five days of concentration and effort; its more like long form war-gaming in nature than like Starcraft.

Anonymous rtp November 27, 2014 8:11 PM  

While the principle behind the article is perfectly fine the truth is, that others have said above, there have been so few deaths from cricket at higher levels in history - both before and after the widespread use of helmets - that the effect is simply not significant enough to worry about.

You could probably have someone throw a ball at the back of your head all day and never receive the same kind of impact Hughes got. It wasn't one in a million it was one in a billion (only 100 recorded injuries of this sort ever - and only one from a cricket ball).

This has devastated us in Australia by the way. We don't treat cricket stars with the same God like status they do in India but - like it is for them - the game is a fundamental part of our psyche.

Anonymous bob k. mando November 27, 2014 10:28 PM  

a question, Tom:
you assert in your article that the deficiencies of 'safety' training would likely show up in the battlefield. did you ever find any field examples of this?

GW1 was only six years later.

Anonymous Harsh November 27, 2014 11:32 PM  

It has been pointed out that it is possible there would be fewer concussions in the NFL if players were to go back to wearing the old leather helmets rather than the hard plastic ones that now "protect" their heads.

Very likely true. I blew out a shoulder one year because I thought my shoulder pads would protect me from any impact. I was wrong. There is something to be said for a sensible amount of fear governing one's actions.

Blogger Jamie-R November 28, 2014 5:06 AM  

jayb, going to Adelaide Oval practice nets and watching the West Indies fast bowlers in the mid-90s was when I knew I wouldn't be playing that game as an adult. That's a rock moving at 125km/hr, sometimes faster. No other sport has that level of danger about it, Aussie Rules has taken head contact out of it, if you target the head, you'll be gone, cricket still uses it as a threat in the game. I don't care about corked thighs in the end, it's just that I never once thought I could be killed in any other sport, only cricket made me think about what might happen if that was my head. And I kept it to myself because it never seemed to happen, until now.

Anonymous Idle Spectator November 28, 2014 6:02 AM  

That's a rock moving at 125km/hr, sometimes faster. No other sport has that level of danger about it, Aussie Rules has taken head contact out of it, if you target the head, you'll be gone, cricket still uses it as a threat in the game.

Have you heard of the sport called jai alai? There has been at least four fatalities. And the hard rubber ball moves far faster than 125 km/hr (77 mph). More like 130 mph+.

Anonymous jayb November 28, 2014 5:24 PM  

Jamie-R, those Windies quicks in the 80s would've been moving it in the 140+ range for the most part, I reckon. And there were few helmets in the game at that point. AFL has had more fatalities than Cricket by quite a way, and guys are still encouraged to back into packs as a test of courage and character. Despite the rules penalising head contact, you are still far more likely to get a concussion in AFL due to the nature of the game. Everyone intuitively knows you can be killed by a cricket ball but, with a helmet, most players forget that quickly once they get used to having the protection. That's Boyc's point: by having helmets we take more risks. Hughes' death has just woken up all those who forgot that it's deadly dangerous.

The fastest guy at my club is about 125-130kp/h, I don't try to hook him - it's never been my shot, and I don't wear a helmet. The pros are hooking guys bowling at 140-150+; they are made of something special.

Blogger Jamie-R November 28, 2014 10:48 PM  

I would model my footy on Dane Swan. Let the Patrick Dangerfield's crash the packs, you just wait to be the outlet and tally up the stats and get all the acclaim, that way you can book a hall of fame place and a speaking gig at Jonathan Brown's charity drive when he's half a vegetable at 50.

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2014 7:13 AM  


I _think_ so. Look into the frierndly fire incidents, particularly across arms (i.e. air vice ground) and weigh those in light of the fact that we virtually never do air to ground with live ammunition in realistic conditions with realistic controls.

That said, blue on blue is the only place you're likely to find it when the enemy sucks as badly as the Arabs do. When I wrote the article, on the other hand, I had the Red Army, PLA, and NKPA in mind.

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2014 7:14 AM  

By the way, just like the safety-fascisti claim, safety IS a combat multiplier.

The problem is that it's a combat multiplier with a value of less than one.

Anonymous Discard November 29, 2014 7:29 PM  

Tom Kratman: I've read in a number of places that the main reason the Japanese kicked us around in night surface combat was the dangerous training they carried out in peacetime. The naval exercises went on, no matter the weather.

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2014 10:17 PM  

From the Japanese point of view, and one I generally used myself, actually, crappy weather represented an opportunity to be exploited, not something so terrible it had to be hidden from.

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