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?