Batsmen take eyes off the ball: Rod Marsh

In the wake of England ODI captain Eoin Morgan being hit on the helmet in the final ODI against Australia, experts feel today's willow wielders don't watch the ball closely and hence get hit often

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Jeff Thomson (left) with Dilip Vengsarkar at an event in Mumbai. The two expressed concerns about batsmen's technique against rising deliveries

When England ODI captain Eoin Morgan was hit on the helmet by Australian paceman Mitchell Starc in the fifth and final ODI at Old Trafford on Sunday, the players from both the sides were shaken a bit. They heaved a sigh of relief when Morgan was on his feet and was assisted back to the pavilion. He was treated for concussion and did not take any further part in that game that Australia won comfortably to clinch the five-match ODI series 3-2.

Certainly, the Aussies could not help but think of their dear mate Phil Hughes, who succumbed to one such blow on the helmet last year during a Sheffield Shield game. Not just the Aussies, the cricketing world that watched Morgan getting hit were thinking for a moment what happened with Hughes and was relieved when Morgan was up on his feet and walking away from the pitch.

Despite wearing protective helmets, there are more cases of batsmen being getting hit now-a-days than earlier. Perhaps, batsmen today are not watching the ball very closely and take cushion from the fact that the helmets will protect them if they miss the line of the ball.

Former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar said in Mumbai on Monday: “We get more hits on the head after wearing helmets. After I started wearing helmets, I myself have been hit five or six times, particularly from West Indies pacers Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson.”

Jeff Thomson, the fearsome Australian bowler of the 1970s and 1980s whom Vengsarkar regarded as one of the “fast bowlers I have seen in my entire career” felt that the fast bowlers have “not mellowed down” after the Hughes incident.

Thomson, regarded as one of the fastest bowlers to have played the game and who has himself hurt many batsmen during his prime, said: “Hughes incident was pure bad luck. He got hit by a fellow (Sean Abbott) who was bowling fine. It was not his fault. Life moves on. That's batting problem. With all the gears, it comes down to technique. They forget they have got a bat to hit the bloody ball,” the 64-year-old Thomson, who is in Mumbai to mentor young fast bowlers, said.

Long before the Hughes incident, Thomson lost a very dear friend and a club cricketer, Martin Bedkober, with whom he also shared a room in Queensland. Thomson was playing a Test in Perth against the West Indies when Bedkober was involved in club cricket in Brisbane, An opening batsman and wicketkeeper, Bedkober was hit on the chest while playing and was dead within 12 minutes.

“I was 24 then and I was really upset. Somehow, I got over it. There were no helmets, no nothing those days. I was lucky to finish (my career) without that on my head,” 64-year-old Thomson recalled.

As it happened, the on-field death of his close mate only fired Thomson up in the next Test. He took five wickets in the first innings of the next Test in Melbourne as Australia went on to win by eight wickets.

Cricket Australia's chairman of selectors and legendary wicket-keeper Rodney Marsh echoed Vengsarkar's views. Marsh, of the 'caught Marsh bowled Lillee' fame (the combination accounted for 95 dismissals in Tests for Australia), said that the current batsmen took their eyes off the ball and hence getting hit often.

Speaking on Monday after selecting the Australian Test squad for Bangladesh tour, Marsh said when asked if he was concerned about Morgan being hit: “It is always a concern when someone gets whacked in the head. I just can't believe how many blokes actually get hit in the head. Generally speaking, they take eyes off the ball.

“Whoever says helmets are fantastic and save lives, am sure people get hit in the head now more than they used to when you did not have the helmet. You had to watch the ball. That sounds old fashioned but it is obvious you still get hit wearing a helmet. My advice is to watch the ball. We would like batsmen to wear helmets with protection on the back but we would also like them to watch the ball.”

Vengsarkar drove the nail on its head when he said: “Earlier batsmen played on instincts. Now-a-days, people have the comfort of safety.”

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