Helmetgate: Cook Caves

I never thought I’d be writing an article about Alastair Cook’s helmet. This is a family site after all. However, a delicious battle of wills developed last week when England’s captain initially refused to wear the new-style batting helmets required by the ECB. The new-style helmets have a fixed grilled so they’re safer, apparently.

This brewing dispute was so interesting because I could see both sides of the argument. The ECB are duty bound to make the game as safe as possible, especially after the Phil Hughes and Craig Kieswetter incidents, but hoisting specific equipment upon established players smacked of the nanny state. Cook has played pretty well in his old-style helmet for ten years without any hiccups, so why should he change now?

Cook’s critics no doubt interpreted his refusal to comply with ECB wishes as more evidence of his precious nature: ‘there’s Alastair thinking he’s all special again’. Meanwhile his supporters could rightly point out that Cook had legitimate concerns about the new helmet: apparently the new fixed grill can prevent batsmen from getting a clear look at the ball.

I have some sympathy for Cook because I once had a similar problem with my first batting helmet. No matter how I adjusted it, I simply couldn’t get used to the grill. It just got in the way. Because I didn’t feel comfortable wearing the thing, it languished at the bottom of my kit bag accumulating dust and sweaty socks. I never wore it.

I justified the decision not to wear my helmet in a similar way to Cook: if I couldn’t see the ball clearly, then the helmet was actually putting my safety at risk. In fact, I didn’t wear a batting helmet at all until I had kids a few years ago when I had a rethink: I decided my health was more important than the weight of runs I scored.

Instead of wearing my old helmet I decided to buy a new one. It’s a lot better because the grill can be adjusted so it doesn’t interfere with my field of vision. It makes me feel a lot safer, even though the ball could just about squeeze between the peak and the grill if it approached my head from a specific angle. This doesn’t particularly worry me because (a) it makes me focus on the ball at all times and never turn my head, and (b) although I’m only 95% bullet proof (rather than 100%) that’s still a lot safer than I used to be.

If I was in Cook’s position I really don’t know how I would’ve handled things. As England captain, I might have pushed my luck a bit to see what happens. Unfortunately however, according to reports Alastair has buckled and already bowed to Straussy’s wishes: he wore the new-style helmet in Essex’s match against Sussex yesterday. Somewhat predictably he was caught Nash bowled Magoffin for 1 off 5 balls. I bet he absolutely hated the new helmet and was spitting feathers as he returned to the dressing room.

In an amusing twist, Sussex’s veteran batsman Chris Nash was later hit in the face trying to pull Jamie Porter. After a brief interval, in which he received treatment for a scratch on his nose, Nash was able to continue batting. He went on to score 92.

Nash’s comments at stumps certainly would’ve given Cook’s cause a bloody nose: he was full of praise for the new helmet. He waxed lyrical about the fixed grill design and claimed it prevented a surefire fractured face. The fact that the ball still managed to squeeze through the gap and make contact with his nose left me scratching my head a little, but there we go.

It’s worth noting that Nash has used the new helmet design for a couple of years. Maybe he’s just used to it? Then again Jonathan Trott, who donned the new headwear for the very first time at Lord’s yesterday, finished the day on 219 not out overnight. Not bad for a bloke who’s rather particular when it comes to batting equipment and rituals.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops. Having scored a solid ton in Essex’s first championship match, Cook seemed to be in great form. If he struggles again in the second innings at Hove, and then endures another long slump in form, maybe this helmet controversy gathers momentum?

If Alastair struggles to see the ball though the new fixed grill, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever get used to it. Perhaps he’ll mount a series of one-man protests outside test venues throughout the summer. What are the odds on a “Strauss you bastard” placard or two?

James Morgan


  • It is ridiculous nanny-statism. A grown adult should have the right to decide for himself what protective equipment he wants to wear.

  • Hmm. Firstly, I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that Cook’s low score for Essex was a result of the new helmet.

    Secondly, batters are not obliged to wear a helmet at all – we don’t see them without them very often but it does happen when there’s spin from both ends. It therefore seems counter-intuitive to mandate that if a player wears a helmet, it must be of a specific design.

    Thirdly, one of Cook’s responsibilities as England captain is to set an example – not only to his team, but to all professionals in England and to amateurs and kids too. One big principle of cricket is that you accept the umpire’s decision, therefore deliberately breaking the helmet regulations could be seen as going against this principle.

    Fourthly, this should have been handled a lot better, in private.

    • “Secondly, batters are not obliged to wear a helmet at all”

      They are now, at least in the UK or when representing the ECB.

      We were a whisker away from helmets becoming completely mandatory for all forms of cricket at any level from the lowest recreational level upwards, but the decision has been postponed for a few years.

      I have already played in games whereby for insurance purposes the opposition refused to play unless everyone of our players batted in a helmet against their 30mph donkey drops.

  • I read somewhere that Trott was still using a prohibited helmet with variable grill. I also read somewhere else that Cook’s reluctance to adopt the new helmet was due to the fact that it is not manufactured/badged by Grey Nicolls, to whom he is contracted. Quite possibly both pieces of information are false. On the whole, it seems it would have been better if the introduction of an allegedly safer helmet had not been backed up by a playing regulation that is unenforceable (as it seems the umpires decided not to prevent Cook from batting in his old helmet, despite the regulations). Also, the fixed-grill does nothing to prevent the Hughes-type injury, which tends to be fatal, but where protection remains optional. Not well-handled, as you say.

    • I agree about the Hughes type injury. If helmets are to be compulsory the powers that be should have considered both vulnerable aspects of the current helmet.

      I was originally with the ECB on this, much as I dislike being told what to do, because the sight of Phil Hughes dropping to the floor like a stone, is something I never want to see again.

      However, having heard from both sides I’m more inclined to leave it to personal choice although I do still waiver from time to time.

      • Maybe a bit off track but I do think the increased use of helmets has led to batsmen not being able to play the short ball correctly any more. A false sense of security if you ask me.
        The other big change is that players now try to hook and pull off the front foot these days. (baseball style almost) Which means batsmen are not in the right position to play or leave the ball if they choose. Hence more batsmen are getting hit.

        • I tend to agree Bob. I always find it very strange that modern batsmen think it’s best to pull/hook 90mph bowlers off the front foot, which basically gives them a lot less time to play the shot. That yard and a half extra is kind of important.

          • If you use the same footwork for every shot, then it eliminates the time required to decide how to move your feet.

            This gives batsmen a significant advantage when facing high speed bowling.

            • But using the same footwork for every shot goes against the fundamentals of batting and will get you into all sorts of trouble, surely? Sometimes you have to go forward but others times you need to go back and across.

              • Not really, no. In a lot of cases, modern batting theory has moved on from the idea of playing back-foot shots against fast bowling. Everything is now played off the front foot.

              • have you watched white ball cricketers recently?? very minimal, samey footwork or none at all….

                so yes, goes against proper batting but given they are playing more and more formats or ‘brands of cricket’ which simply require baseball style smashing it… footwork and so technical skill levels are dropping.

                Playing correctly of the short ball is the most obvious shot lost

  • If your bosses trust you enough to open the batting for the best team they can put onto the field…. Nearly lost my thought flow there, you should be allowed to wear the helmet that your little heart desires. Statistically, he has more chance of being eaten alive by a crocodile on his way to the ground so what’s Straussy going to do about that. Ban crocodiles?
    (Sorry, I’ve been out in the sun, please substitute the eaten alive bit with run over by a bus) (Who the driver might be is on another thread)

  • Well, Cook is currently 103 not out in the second inns! Obviously seeing the ball pretty well. So what was all the fuss about Alastair? :-)

    • According to Cricinfo Trott wore the old helmet on Monday but the new one on Tuesday! At least that’s my information.

  • Been following this all week and been a bit bemused by it.
    The Phil Hughes accident was a tragedy, one of the worst things ever seen on a cricket field/any sports field but it was just that an accident.
    Good on the manufacturer for trying to make things as safe as possible, but forcing players to wear it isn’t the going the right way about, you educate them , explain the benefits and then its up to them surely?
    Unless & I’m no expert on this, it makes the ECB’s insurance void (a bit like not wearing a hi-vis on a building site)

  • Ask Chris Rogers what he thinks about helmets.

    Can’t see the ball through the helmet.

    What is it with batsmen? Since helmets were introduced more people get hit. Since T20 came along more batsmen have poor technique and can’t get into position or out of the way.

    • Safer helmets and more getting hit and poorer techniques.. Sad to say it’s true


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