The start of this cricket season has been attended, as none other before, by the sceptre of the writ. Urged on by the, no doubt, well-intentioned but totally misdirected urging of the ECB the world of youth and, especially, school cricket has been turned upside down by the frantic, and often futile search for the helmet! Apart from those involved in the manufacture, or supply, of the aforementioned articles, there have been no winners in this chaos.
Schools and clubs have been faced with bills that they could not have budgeted for. Parents have been pressurised into purchasing the article, though I suppose it is at least more useful than yet another update of his/her mobile phone. Masters in charge and already harassed club volunteers (I hope they have been fully vetted in line with association policies) are running around with disclaimer forms which any self-respecting lawyer would snigger at, knowing that they are rarely, if ever, worth the paper upon which they are printed.
Meanwhile batting techniques go further down the hill as the feeling of invincibility which the article appears to guarantee, renders such old-fashioned ideas as "keeping your eye on the ball" or "watching it off the pitch" totally unnecessary, to be replaced by the periscope hook, or the front foot lunge (for after all he, the bowler, isn't allowed to pitch it short anyway or it will be a no ball).
I umpired a school match (no names, no pack drill) in which one side came complete with helmets and the opposition were in 20th century time warp. The pitch was fine though the skipper of the Helmets left grumbling that the ball was bouncing uncontrollably after he had steered a widish one which reared off "back of a length" to all of thigh height, gently to the keeper. The "bare heads" seemed unconcerned that the ball might pass close to their "scones"; some even swayed out of the way; none turned their back. The only near misses came in ways for which even the most far-seeing of negligence solicitors might have struggled to establish foreseeability. Helmets' very slow leg spinner pitched one so short that the batsman manoeuvred himself into a position whereby he hit it with a pull shot but off side of the helmetless wicketkeeper. As luck would have it he had been advised not to stand right up as it was cold and a little wet, there were already 7 wickets down, and it seemed a waste of time to hold the game up while his keeping helmet was brought on.
The other near miss came when Helmets' number 3 bat hit a long hop past a respectfully deep (certainly more than 15 yards from the bat) mid off at the speed of a bullet. He repeated the shot straight at the bowler's end umpire in the next over. Where is the ECB's credibility when they have not decreed that umpires too must wear helmets when the batsmen are trying to make contact with the ball with malicious intent.
The state of English cricket is not healthy. The ECB's mindless action, running scared of the great god of negligence (a particularly American phenomenon and therefore totally alien to cricket) has sent out the message that cricket is a dangerous game, which is clearly inaccurate. With a healthy respect for the hard ball, and time and money put into pitch preparation and coaching rather than protective gear purchase, "all reasonable steps" to protect the young could have been taken. They have let the genie out of the lamp. Cricket, as in life, has taught hard, but usually fair, lessons; the batsman gets but one chance, and should guard it jealously. The bowler might have six goes but skippers are notoriously fickle! By this time next year (in collusion with psychologists perhaps) the ECB will have us all using a ping-pong ball, giving the batsman 6 lives (for equality with bowlers of course) of banning fielders altogether on the grounds that they could get hurt if the batsman throws the bat. Whither age group cricket?