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Editorial

A matter of life and death

As athleticism and outfielding undergo a revolution, so too must cricket's ability to anticipate accidents

Rahul Bhattacharya

Ankit Keshri was 20 years old, deep in love with cricket. He played it very well, well enough to have captained Bengal's Under-19 team, and caught the eye of first-class selectors. One day in an important club match, minutes after he had come on to the field, he collided with a team-mate as they went for a catch. Our cover story this month looks at the tragic ramifications of that collision.

Outstanding reporting by Nagraj Gollapudi and Karthik Krishnaswamy, intimate but never invasive, takes us into a number of worlds. There is the world of the India aspirant, his diary showing us his notes to self, his coach telling us of the anxiety of a young old-school opener trying to expand his game to fit an era of big hitting. There is the heartbreaking world of the bereaved family, second-generation migrants from Dhangaon in Bihar to Kolkata, left now to stare at Ankit's bats and trophies. There is the terrible and complicated predicament of Sourav Mondal, the team-mate who collided with Ankit - and the ensuing tension between survivor and bereaved.

There is the unsettling medical saga that played out across two hospitals. The most damning picture here is of the bumbling officialdom at Keshri's club, East Bengal. Raj Kumar Keshri, Ankit's father, filed a police complaint against one hospital for releasing his son without consulting the family. In a more litigious culture, there would almost certainly be civil action against the club, which took that decision, most likely to avail a discount in another hospital. But this is India, 1300 million people, where lives are cheap, mistakes inevitable, miscalculations routine, accountability low.

In baseball fielding is more aggressive and evolved than in cricket, and so too are its strategies for field coverage and communication. Even so, research by the authors of Death at the Ballpark has shown that at least 101 players at all levels of the game have died from collisions since 1862.

Every coach must have to impart to his pupils, every senior to a junior, every team-mate to another, the sobering knowledge that calling and responding is not just a matter of completing a successful catch

Several deaths on the cricket field over the past year were caused by the ball. We know of at least three: Phillip Hughes, the Israeli umpire Hillel Oscar, the British Tamil youngster Bavalan Pathmanathan. In a Federation of International Cricketers' Associations study, injuries arising from impact of the ball are rated "critical risk"; those arising from collisions are not far behind, rated "high risk".

Two months after Keshri's death, Moises Henriques and Rory Burns of Surrey went full speed for a catch at a T20 Blast game in Arundel. It ended very badly. Both men were knocked unconscious, needed oxygen, then hospitalisation. Burns had serious injuries to his head and face, Henriques had his jaw broken in three places. The match was abandoned in fear of something worse.

As athleticism and ambition in the cricket outfield undergo a revolution, so too must cricket's awareness. It needs to contemplate more sophisticated mechanisms of ball convergence, worry a little more, consider instituting the concussion protocols that are a part of American sport. Every coach must have to impart to his pupils, every senior to a junior, every team-mate to another, the sobering knowledge that calling and responding is not just a matter of completing a successful catch. It could be, as Mondal finds himself pondering over and over, a matter of life and death.

We will have more on the subject of safety in a subsequent issue; this story, Ankit Keshri's story, is not about physical injury. It is, sadly, about the trauma of death and cricket is its canvas.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care

 

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