The funeral service of Phil Hughes was held the other day. A precious and promising career in cricket was lost to Australia’s own “chin music”. “Chin music” is nothing but bouncing a fast ball to literally shave the chin, if not hit it, of the batsman facing him. Admittedly a difficult ball to bowl and also to play as the ball rises rapidly off the pitch. A batsman needs to have very quick reflexes and needs to be very quick-footed to put it away. Initial reports said that Hughes was quicker than necessary in negotiating the ball which proved to be lethal. He was playing in a Sheffield Shield match of Australia’s domestic tournament like our own Ranji Trophy.
“Chin Music” is also used in the game of baseball. The ball is pitched aiming at the batter or near about his face. The intention is naturally to intimidate the batter or to force him away from the ball. But in baseball there is a difference; if a pitcher overdoes it the umpire can eject him from the game. In cricket there is no such provision. There is only one provision that a bowler can bowl only two bouncers that are essentially part of “chin music” in an over in one-day cricket matches. In test matches there is apparently no such condition.
That reminds one of the “Bodyline” controversies that raged around eighty years ago when Bradman, the God of Cricket, was in top form. England having been defeated by Australia in the 1930 series mainly because of Bradman’s unfailing form while touring England, the English team devised a strategy for its Australia tour in 1932-33 to attack the Australian batsmen’s bodies. Bouncers were being directed at the batsmen and Bradman, as indeed others, were repeatedly hurt. Despite unavailability of any protective gear other than leg-guards and gloves it was a life-threatening situation that led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. Bradman seemingly was intimidated and his rate of scoring fell to an average of around 50 whereas in 1930 he averaged 100 per innings in England. Soon, however the laws of cricket were changed to ensure that “bodyline” bowling was made illegal.
Apparently, the changed laws seem to have now been given up, as in place of “Bodyline” we now have “chin music” that is as bad. With the untimely and unwarranted death of Phil Hughes there is now an international discourse going on whether to ban the bouncers or to restrict them. Many cricketers feel that banning bouncers will take the thrill out of cricket; after all, a pull off a bouncer is a delectable sight. Even Bradman as far back as in 1930s, though he got the ball several times on his ribs and back, soldiered on dealing with the short-pitched fast rising deliveries stepping back hitting them on the rise to the off-side, seldom giving a chance to the fielders in the leg trap set for him to hold any of his catches.. Besides, there have been very few fatalities because of the short-pitched fast deliveries and Hughes’s fatal injury was, apparently, of a one off kind.
Even our own Nari Contractor having had two ribs broken in a Test against England in 1958 played on to make 81. While leading the Indian team to West Indies in 1961-62, he got a severe hit on his head by a beamer, not a short-pitched one but a ball that never touches the ground and is aimed above the waist, from the young fast bowler Charlie Griffith. Contractor collapsed in a heap on the pitch and later had to undergo surgery. And yet I recall seeing him only around two years later in Ahmedabad in 1964 opening the innings for India against England. Two severe injuries seemed to have made no difference to his psyche. He is still around celebrating the eighth decade of his life.
Perhaps, cricket administrators expect from cricketers such guts, fearlessness and determination to prove themselves as world-class cricketers.