Almanac Cricket: Phil Hughes inquest and side-on batting


I read that some authority and Cricket Australia are both conducting inquests into the tragic death of Phil Hughes.

In my humble opinion, as sad as  it is, there is a terrible reality that Phil Hughes’ death reflects a lack of proper batting technique. This was often talked about in the years before but was dismissed to a degree because more often than not he scored a lot of runs. Mind you a number of the better bowlers around the world seemed to have worked him out.

I have no access to any footage of him batting or the actual incident and I must rely on the odd picture that remains in my memory and watching him bat on television. And I speak as a former bowler who could not bat. But I grew to recognise the weaknesses of batsmen which I could exploit.

His technique was flawed and he could not play the short ball like the great “hookers and pullers’’ of the past. That being said he didn’t have to face the great bowlers of the short ball from the past either.

So prior to this incident he did sometimes get away with a lack of technique although I seem to remember him being hit now and then.

For over 100 years cricket in Australia was a side on game and we were very good at it. We won more games than we lost at the top level. As kids young batsmen were taught to bat completely side on. That means that the front shoulder pointed straight down the wicket or slightly cocked towards mid off and head, bat and front pad were all in line. That was the best way to pick up the line of the ball as it left the bowler’s hand. The batsman then ascertained the length of the ball which determined whether he had to move forward with the front foot or back with the back foot.

Before the ball was released he was well balanced on both feet which were side by side. So, if he moved forward the back foot was the pivot  and if he moved back then the front foot was the pivot.

When he saw that the ball was short the direction of the back foot was determined by the line of the ball. If the ball was outside off, the back foot went back and he could cut the ball or leave it. If the ball was sufficiently wide of off then the back foot would move back and towards point so that the batsman was over the top of the ball with his cut shot. If the ball was directed outside leg then the back foot would move back and across in the direction of point and he was in position to pull, hook or leave. In both cases his head was either inside or outside the line of the ball and out of danger and he was perfectly balanced.

If the ball was on the line of the stumps and therefore aimed at the batsman he would go back and across towards point so that his head was out of the line of the ball and again he could pull, hook or leave.

In all cases because of this side on technique his head was out of the firing line and often it was a matter of just swaying the top half of the body or just the head to ensure this. These actions were aided by his control of balance. The other alternative was just to duck once the batsman had ascertained the line and the length.

In most cases the modern batsman tends to move forward at first. This seems to be encouraged by the excess padding that he has plus the knowledge that the modern bowler does very little with the ball compared with bowlers of the past. The modern command of line and length is another story.

If the modern batsman commits to a forward movement to a short ball and miscalculates, his back foot is dragged forward and he has nowhere to go except to maybe swing the bat and/or turn his head and hope that he doesn’t get hit. He does not have the luxury of the control and balance of the side on player I have tried to describe. He is stuck there and his whole body is in line with the ball. I’d venture to say that this is what happened in the Hughes case. Unfortunately the ball did not hit his shoulder or helmet but managed to find a vulnerable unprotected part of his head.

I have repeatedly said to anyone who will listen that once a young batsman has these flaws in his technique at age 12, there is not a coach in this land who has the ability to tell him anything different. By the time he gets to first grade he is most likely stuck with those flaws for life.

If the powers at either inquest delve into these reasons, and if they take any notice of the small handful of people in this country who understand this reasoning, they will order a complete revamp of the way we teach our kids to bat. We have to start by coaching the coaches and there are only two people in this country with that ability. Eventually this correct technique will filter up to our first class players of the future and Australia will turn around world cricket.

That should be Phil Hughes’ legacy.


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