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Head and face injuries in cricket — Part 1 of 3

Terry Jenner (batsman) was struck by John Snow (bowler) in their Ashes clash in 1970-71 © Getty Images
Terry Jenner (batsman) was struck on the head by John Snow (bowler) in their Ashes clash in 1970-71 © Getty Images

There will be some who will maintain that cricket, being not a full body-contact sport, is not the most dangerous of all outdoor sport. Plenty of injuries — especially above the throat — across its chequered past have, on the contrary, made cricket more dangerous than it meets the eye; Abhishek Mukherjee lists a few in the first of this three-part series, in the wake of Stuart Broad’s recent nose injury.

Fast bowlers have been the glamour boys of cricket: while batsmen have had the luxury of raising the bat (a bit too frequently for comfort, of late), the sheer spectacle of a fast bowler steaming in with the entire crowd behind him is often enough to send a chill down a batsman’s spine. You can be unsettled by pace; made to felt claustrophobic by accuracy; fooled by movement, both in the air and off the track; most importantly, fast bowlers are capable of inducing something the other divisions of the sport are yet not capable of fear.

Everyone is scared of injuries, and the list is too long to be dealt with. When Varun Aaron  got one through Stuart Broad‘s helmet at Manchester, the cricket world feared for the batsman’s well-being. Broad had copped one on his nose, which left it shattered. This list deals with the most iconic splanchnocranium (okay, head and face) wounds in the history of the sport — that too while batting (this means we are leaving out the likes of Raman Lamba and Keegan Meth, and Saba Karim and Mark Boucher).

1) George Summers, Lord’s, 1870

The incident goes back before Test cricket was introduced. In those days Lord’s had earned notoriety for having a dangerous wicket, but on in 1870 it claimed a life. Nottinghamshire were set to chase 157, and the score was 23 for one when Summers walked out.

John Platts, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) round-farm fast bowler, let out a short one that took off and hit Summers on his face. He had to be carried off the field, and Richard Daft, the Notts captain and next batsman, walked out with his head wrapped in a towel. Things seemed to be going fine when Nottinghamshire won the match and Summers returned home by train. Four days later he passed away. MCC made sincere efforts to improve the conditions of Lord’s. Platts, on the other hand, never bowled fast after the incident.

2) Bert Oldfield, Adelaide Oval, 1932-33

Oldfield’s injury did not merely change the course of the Test: it altered laws, ruined political relationships between England and Australia, saw cricket reach one of its biggest controversies, and can safely be marked as the trigger that ended Harold Larwood’s career.


Bill Woodfull had already been struck on the chest, and despite the animosity that ensued Larwood may still have been forgiven. As Douglas Jardine took the second new ball, the amicable Oldfield hit Larwood through cover for four. “Good shot, Bert,” Larwood had applauded.

Larwood’s next ball was slightly slower; Oldfield later admitted that he could not see it because of the low sightscreen; he tried a pull, the ball hit the glove — and then his temple. As Oldfield staggered fell, umpire George Hele rushed to him; the England fielders formed a circle; Gubby Allen rushed for a jug of water; amidst all that, when Larwood apologised, Oldfield — despite his injury — murmured: “It wasn’t your fault, Harold.”

Oldfield’s voice got lost amidst the uproar had followed. He was perhaps too polite to be heard.

3) Denis Compton, Old Trafford, 1948

Consider the situation: the tourists have been steamrolling over one opposition after the other; your side is 0-2 down in the series, and this is the third Test; Ray Lindwall is sending down one bouncer after another, and the score is 33 for two, and you’re struck on the arm by one; he unleashes another, you try to hook, you edge, the ball smashed onto your forehead. You stagger and stumble and leave with bleeding head, and they administer stitches on your head.

They ask you not to resume your innings. You have a knock in the nets, and walk out at 119 for five; and walk back stranded on 145 of the finest runs. Lindwall is unforgiving, but you rise to the occasion, and carry your team on your shoulders. These are performances on which fairytales are woven: Compton was indeed a knight in shining armour.

4) Bert Sutcliffe, Johannesburg, 1952-53

There are performances that inspire you; that make you applaud or drop your jaw in awe; and then there are some that give you the goosebumps. Sutcliffe’s performance was certainly one of these. It was an incident so intriguing that a mere entry in a list cannot do justice to the performance its intensity.

Neil Adcock was at his fastest that day, and Sutcliffe, trying to hook him, was hit on the side of his head; he had to be taken to the hospital with blood trickling down his ear. Then, with the sixth wicket falling for 81, Sutcliffe stopped Tony MacGibbon and walked out himself.

He later said: “My head was heavily bandaged, so much so I felt like a Sikh, and should perhaps be carrying a hockey stick instead of a bat. I must confess I was fortified to some extent by a generous helping of Scotland’s chief product… and I don’t mean porridge.”

And then Sutcliffe hit, and how! The third ball from David Ironside disappeared into the stands; Frank Mooney hung around as New Zealand saved the follow-on, but once he fell it was as good as over: MacGibbon and Overton followed shortly, and they started returning to the pavilion.

It was then that the frame of 20-year old Bob Blair emerged from the pavilion. He was supposed to be at the hotel following the Tangiwai Disaster that had claimed his fiancée’s life, but he made his way out to the centre. “I’d like to feel I can help,” Blair later said.

Dick Brittenden later wrote: “Looking down on the scene from the glass windows of the pavilion, the New Zealanders wept openly and without shame; the South Africans were in little better state, and (Bert) Sutcliffe was just as obviously distressed. Before he faced his first ball, Blair passed his glove across his eyes in the heart-wringing gesture of any small boy anywhere in trouble but defiant.”

Then Sutcliffe cut loose, hitting the miserly Hugh Tayfield for three sixes in an eight-ball over; he took a single, and Blair hit Tayfield for another. The last pair added 33 in ten minutes before Tayfield had Blair stumped. Sutcliffe remained unbeaten on 80, scored out of 105 during his stay at the crease. As Brittenden said, “It was a great and glorious victory, a story every New Zealand boy should learn at his mother’s knee.” Such is cricket.

5) Frank Tyson, SCG, 1954-55

You do not mess with fast bowlers. Lindwall had learned it the hard way at SCG.

Australia had conceded the Ashes at The Gabba, and were on track at SCG when they bowled out England for 154 and secured a 74-run lead. Tyson had earlier got Lindwall out with a bouncer, and Lindwall was certainly not one to forget that. As Bill Edrich and Tyson were trying to build a defendable lead, Lindwall hit Tyson with a bouncer on the back of his head. As Tyson crumpled on the pitch, Edrich yelled out “My God, Lindy, you’ve killed him!”

Tyson lost and regained consciousness, came back after X-rays, and got out promptly afterwards. Australia had to pay dearly. Tyson took six for 85 to defend 223 (Australia were bowled out for 184 after being 77 for two); secured the lead with another spell of seven for 27 in the next Test at MCG; and helped regain the Ashes with three for 85 and three for 47 at Adelaide Oval. Tyson finished with rubber with 28 wickets at 20.82.

6) Kripal Singh, Chepauk, 1958-59

One of the gravest mistakes one could have made while batting was to get under Roy Gilchrist’s skin; unfortunately, that was exactly what Kripal Singh did at Chepauk. It had taken Gerry Alexander immense effort to somewhat subdue the pair of Wes Hall and Gilchrist for some time till Kripal stepped in.

Kripal hit Gilchrist for three fours and then — for some reason known only to him — taunted Gilchrist. The result was obvious: Gilchrist bowled a beamer from a distance of 18 yards; the ball dislodged Kripal’s turban. Unfortunately, he was sent back mid-tour following the match against North Zone where he bowled three menacing beamers to Swaranjit Singh in one over.

7) Nari Contractor, Kensington Oval, 1961-62

It was as brutal as it gets: Contractor had himself walked out to open after Barbados had put up 394. Charlie Griffith had already warmed up after a fiery first over. Dilip Sardesai soon departed, and Rusi Surti, having walked out, complained to Contractor that Griffith was chucking.

Contractor asked Surti to wait till the end of the over. Meanwhile, Conrad Hunte dropped Contractor off Griffith at short-leg; Indian cricket would have been thankful to Hunte if had taken the catch. The fourth ball of Griffith’s second over changed the course of Indian cricket for the next decade.

Contractor later told Arzan Sam Wadia of Parsi Khabar: “It was as (Charlie) Griffith was to deliver the fourth ball of his second over that somebody opened a window in the pavilion. There were no sight screen at that time and my 100 per cent concentration wasn’t on that delivery. I saw it just inches away before it hit me. But it isn’t true that I ducked.”

It took a series of critical surgeries and blood-donation from several cricketers (Sir Frank Worrell the foremost among them) to get Contractor back on his feet. He played First-Class cricket for a decade, but never played another Test.

8) Terry Jenner, SCG, 1970-71

It was not exactly Bodyline, but Ray Illingworth had his men around Jenner all right as John Snow, the spearhead of his attack, steamed in. Snow unleashed a nasty bouncer, and poor Jenner ducked; the ball hit him on his head. He had to retire hurt, but the incident did not end there. Umpire Lou Rowan warned Snow, Illingworth defended his man, and later in the day Snow was manhandled by a man in the stands as he went to fetch the ball in the outfield.

Jenner returned to the crease later, but some outstanding bowling from Derek Underwood and Illingworth himself helped England regain the Ashes. In 1998, an 80-year old called Trevor Guy came out of the closet in The Sydney Morning Herald, confessing that it was he who had grabbed Snow’s shirt. Snow was quite amicable when he knew of Guy’s admission: “Sure I’d shake his hand if I met up with him. That was a long time ago.”

9) Ewen Chatfield, Eden Park, 1974-75

For a few seconds it seemed that Chatfield would become the first man to die during a Test, but fortunately he still lives.

It was a one-sided encounter. Following England’s 593, New Zealand were bowled out for 326 and were down to 140 for nine when Chatfield joined Geoff Howarth. They saw off to stumps on the fourth day, and took the score to 184 as Peter Lever kept on bouncing to Chatfield — but aiming mostly at his gloves.

Unfortunately, the fifth ball of Lever’s fifth over of the day hit Chatfield on the gloves and deflected on to his temple as he made a desperate last-minute attempt to move away. He fell on the ground as the ball hit him, and it took everyone a few seconds to figure out the extent of the blow.

Bernard Thomas, the MCC physiotherapist, rushed to the field along with John May, an ambulance man; Thomas administered heart-massage and mouth-to-mouth resurrection to bring Chatfield back to life. He later said that Chatfield had swallowed his tongue; his heart had stopped beating; and he was clinically dead for a few seconds.

“It was the worst case I have seen and I never want to see another,” Thomas later said. As for Lever, he admitted: “I honestly thought I had killed him as I saw him lying there in convulsions. I felt sick and ashamed at what I had done and all I could think when I got back to the pavilion was that I wanted to retire”, Lever later said.

10) Rick McCosker, MCG, 1976-77

Rick McCosker hooked as Bob Willis bounced on the first morning of the Centenary Test. He was perhaps a tad early on his shot: the ball smashed into his jaw and hit the stumps. It could well have been another injury that ended in a batsman being ruled out of the rest of the Test.

Australia were bowled out for 138 before Dennis Lillee and Max Walker bowled out England for 95. Then, the second new ball in the second innings about to be claimed, McCosker wanted to walk out — only to be stopped by Lillee. And Lillee played out the new ball.

At the fall of the eighth wicket, however, McCosker could not be held back any further. He strode out, his jaw wired, and scored 25, helping add 54 for the last two wickets. Australia eventually won by 45 runs.

To be continued…

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)

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