It took Phillip Hughes’s death on the cricket field in 2014 for cricket’s governing body to take the issue of head injuries and concussion more seriously. The ICC’s decision to allow concussion substitutes from August 1 is a welcome step, keeping in mind player health and welfare. But like all new regulations. the fine print will evolve over time, and their remains scope for teams manipulating the provision to get an added advantage. Tushar Bhaduri explains
A cricket ball weighs 163g, consists of cork covered by leather, and is sometimes hurled at speeds of over 150kmph. But despite the damage, it can cause to a human head, the game has been slow to recognise the risks of concussion and other injuries when the projectile makes contact with the topmost part of the human anatomy.
But last week, the ICC approved concussion player replacements in all formats of men’s and women’s international cricket and First-Class cricket worldwide.
The decision was reached after trials over a two-year period and will be enforced from August 1 when the World Test championship commences with the Ashes series in England. With both teams expected to feature some quick and hostile pacemen, one can expect the regulation to be tested in the next few weeks.
However, there’s ambiguity about the implementation and how the match officials will prevent its misuse.
* All teams need to have a doctor on hand now to deal with any such emergency, adding another cost head-on boards and associations. But more importantly, the rule could be vulnerable to manipulation if the doctor doesn’t always take a call on just the medical merits of the case. Who’s going to overrule if the doctor puts the team’s interests above a player’s physical welfare?
* If a fast bowler has a minor niggle and gets a glancing blow, it would be tempting for the team management to get him ruled out of the game and get a ‘like-for-like replacement’. This stresses the need to have independent medical observers to adjudicate in these matters.
* The provision is also prone to tactical misuse. What does ‘like-for-like’ mean? Does that stand for replacing a bowler for a bowler and a batsman for a batsman, or goes deeper? If it doesn’t, it will be tempting for teams to replace their pace bowler with a spinner if the pitch has started taking a turn, or an opener for a middle-order batsman in overcast conditions.
* How many players does the team management carry around overseas to cater to any medical contingency? Even the home team often releases players, not in the final playing eleven for domestic matches elsewhere. Now, they will think twice before doing so as a like-for-like replacement may be hundreds of kilometres away (as is likely to be the case in India).
* It would be interesting to see how the team management convinces a concussed player that he needs to be substituted. The most famous case often quoted in this regard is of present Australia head coach Justin Langer, who was hit on the head by a Makhaya Ntini bouncer in the Johannesburg Test of 2006, but was determined to go out and bat with the team needing a handful of runs to win with eight wickets down. Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee eventually got Australia over the line, so we’ll never know.
* How will the record books deal with the new regulations?