By Venkatraman Ganesan
Mark Boucher, South Africa’s most successful and one of the world’s longest serving wicket-keepers, became an unsuspecting victim of a freak injury. Playing a tour game against Somerset at Taunton on Tuesday, Boucher was struck in the eye by a flying bail which was the result of an Imran Tahir googly finding its mark. The injury resulted in the laceration of the white part of the eye, known as the sclera in medical parlance. The severity and significance of the damage has necessitated an emergency surgery of the affected eye for this reliable and pugnacious gloveman. Such was the severity of the injury that Boucher announced his retirement from all forms of cricket later in the day.
It would be apposite here to take a few minutes to dwell upon such unfortunate, unpredictable and unforeseen injuries which, even though infrequent, are an extremely debilitating and demoralising attendant of cricket. Boucher is certainly not the first cricketer to have experienced the trauma of a ludicrous injury. The history of the cricket, right from the time of its evolution, has been marred with unsettling accounts of inglorious physical mishaps and incredulous accidents plaguing its protagonists.
Felling the fielder
The earliest freak catastrophe arguably made its mark a full 388 years ago, when in 1624, the idyllic setting of Horsted Keynes in East Sussex was jolted out of its tranquility by a tragic incident. While fielding, Jasper Vinall was struck on the head by the occupant of the crease, Edward Tye, who was attempting to hit the cherry a second time in order to escape the ignominy of being caught. The blow eventually and unfortunately turned out to be fatal.
A mirror image of the 1624 disaster was repeated in 1647, this time in West Sussex at Selsey. The poor victim in this case was one Henry Brand. Sussex apparently was not the most secure place to fielding in!
With the encoding of the Laws of Cricket in 1744, this peculiar art of batsmanship was given a timely burial. These two forgettable episodes have been chronicled by Liam McCann in his interesting book “Cricket Facts, Figures and Fun”
Yet another calamitous incidence of a fielder being fatally injured occurred in 1998 when a former India cricketer Raman Lamba breathed his last consequent to taking a ferocious pull by Mehrab Hossain on his forehead. This game was the final of the Bangladesh Premier played between Abhani Krira Chakra, and Mohammedan Sporting Club at the Dhaka Bangabandhu Stadium.
Collision of men, minds and muscles
Cricket has been a sorry witness to a string of injuries necessitated on account of players involuntarily colliding with one another and at varying speeds. The earliest account of such a collision was reported in the year 1720 during the course of a match between London and Kent. A couple of London fielders were the recipients of substantial injuries caused by an unwitting ‘clash of heads’! However there was an element of consolation for the ‘head bangers’ in the form of a victory for London.
No person who witnessed the game between Australia and Sri Lanka at Kandy in 1999, whether on television or in the stadium would ever forget the miserable collision between Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie. This violent coming together of both men resulted in a broken nose for Steve Waugh, a broken leg for Gillespie and a reprieve for Mahela Jayawardene, to catch whose mistimed skier the two Aussies were haring about!
The elegant Brian Lara provided a rare and singularly peculiar exhibition of inelegance when while scurrying for a single he got himself painfully acquainted with Marvan Atapattu. This incident which occurred again at Kandy in the year 2001 left the ‘Prince’ nursing a dislocated shoulder and giving a few games the complete skip. The moral of the story for batsmen and fielders while playing at Kandy seems to be “stand and deliver” and “run at your own peril” respectively!
The wicket keeping fraternity is deserving of a liberal dose of sympathy as the specie seems to be a breed privy to its own set of peculiar perils and wicked woes. Lapses in concentration and letting go of catches seem to be the least of such lamentations. In a study conducted by the Accident Research Centre of Monash University, unambiguously titled “Bowling Cricket Injuries Over: A Review of the Literature”, it is revealed that on account of the unnatural action of repeated squatting’, wicket keepers are prone to osteoarthritic changes in their knees!
However the probability of being affected by the onset of osteoarthritis seems to be a very mild and moderate threat when analysed in the light of other miseries and miscalculations that have been the bane of a multitude of wicket-keepers.
The list of wicket-keeping travails and tribulations seem to be unceasing:
# Paul Downton made the reluctant but inescapable transition from an England wicket keeper to a stock broker at Cazenove & Co when a mischievous and uncompassionate bail lodged in his eye when he was standing up to the stumps and put a premature end to his cricketing career.
# Warren Hegg was devoid of all Lady Luck when in 2005 James Anderson bowled James Middlebrook. The uncaring cherry not satisfied with merely dislodging the stumps also made its mark on Hegg’s innocuous thumb. This resulted in the prolific Lancashire wicket-keeper putting an untimely end to the season and also falling short of George Duckworth’s record dismissals for Lancashire, by an excruciating six takes (919 vs 925)!
# Syed Saba Karim, who played for India in a solitary Test and in 34 One-Day Internationals had the misfortune of being hit on the eye by an Anil Kumble delivery which before making contact with Karim’s eye first landed on a Bangladeshi batsman’s boot. This injury led to continued discomfitures, a surgery and ultimately retirement from the game itself.
Four streakers, scanning machines and break-ins
The world of cricket has also been privy to freak misfortunes, which though causing discomfiture to the person involved, has also been a source of immense comical value to the uninvolved.
# Terry Alderman’s transition from a raw pace bowler to a wily medium-pacer with grit and guile, was purely of his own making and a thoroughly voluntary act. While trying to put in a rugby style tackle in trying to lock horns with a male streaker, (amongst everybody else) during a Test Match at Perth in 1982, the Aussie paceman significantly injured his right shoulder. The streaker after all had ended Alderman’s streak as a genuine fast bowler!
# The pioneer of innovation in freak injuries, however has to be Ian Greig, sans a semblance of doubt. This cricketer is almost a Hall of Famer when it comes to self-imposed peculiarities of pain. Who else would injure an ankle after an 18-foot fall, which in itself was the consequence of attempting to break into one’s own home after breaking the key of the door lock! This was one man who would never ever have been a seasoned professional had he decided to embrace the undistinguished vocation of a burglar!The wonders do not end here though.
# On another inauspicious occasion, Greig went to hospital for an x-ray after a Pakistan bowler hit his finger during a practice match, and the report revealed a fracture. But this unique individual he also required a couple of stitches after his head came into an involuntary and sudden contact with the x-ray machine while he was getting up from his chair!
Not only is cricket a game of glorious uncertainties, but it is also on occasions a game of inglorious calamities. How much ever one fervently aspires, he cannot wish away collateral damages of the likes as has been illustrated above. While some of them ensure that the cricketer at the receiving end comes away with a few stitches and a smile, a few others result not merely in the abdication of the game, but in the very absence of life itself. In spite of such attendant dangers, the game still continues to regale, reward and resurge in a spirit of noble effervescence.
(Venkataraman Ganesan is a Chartered Accountant by intent and a lawyer by accident. He has a maniacal penchant for books, more books, still more books and lot more books, when he is not watching cricket that is! He loves his Scotch and scribbles for fun. He blogs at www.the-venkyloquist.com)