Why did Phillip Hughes die? 'Freak injury' caused tragedy

Batsman was struck in the neck by bouncer, in an area helmets 'cannot protect'

Phil Hughes of Australia
(Image credit: Robert Cianflone / Getty)

The shocking death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, two days after he was struck by a bouncer during a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney, has raised questions about the safety of players.

The sequence of events leading up to the tragic moment when he suffered "catastrophic" injuries was unremarkable. Hughes, whose job as a top-order batsman was to see off fast bowling, was well set at the crease. He was also wearing a helmet when he was hit by a routine bouncer delivered by young fast bowler Sean Abbott.

So why did he die?

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The helmet

Much has been made of the fact that Hughes was wearing an old-style helmet, manufactured by Masuri, when he was struck in an unprotected area behind the grille and below the shell.

"The model Hughes was wearing does not offer as much protection to the back of the head and neck as newer models issued by Masuri," the company acknowledged, according to The Independent.

But it is unclear if the new designs would have prevented the ball from hitting Hughes as he was struck in a "vulnerable area of the head and neck that helmets cannot fully protect, while enabling batsmen to have full and proper movement", said Masuri.

The introduction of helmets in the 1970s and 80s made batting much less dangerous, but they are not a guarantee of safety. Last summer Stuart Broad had his nose broken by a ball that flew between the peak and grill of his helmet and it is not uncommon to see batsmen floored by bouncers.

The shot

Never one to mince his words, Geoffrey Boycott, writing for the Daily Telegraph before news of Hughes's death emerged, said that modern players took too many risks when facing short balls.

"Helmets have unfortunately now taken away a lot of that fear and have given every batsman a false sense of security," he wrote. "They feel safe and people will now attempt to either pull or hook almost every short ball that is bowled at them."

Hughes was attempting a pull shot when he was hit.

The 'freakish accident'

The medical reason for Hughes's death emerged at an emotional press conference on Thursday. The ball from Abbott hit Hughes on the neck rather than the head, causing an artery carrying blood to the brain to split. It was, said Cricket Australia doctor Peter Brukner, a "freakish accident" and one from which there is little chance of recovery.

"The injury, called a subarachnoid haemorrhage, occurs when an artery is compressed and splits, forcing blood into the brain area. Only one case had previously been reported as a result of a cricket ball," reports the Telegraph.

"It was an injury to the neck that caused haemorrhage in the brain," explained Brukner. "The condition is incredibly rare."

Such "catastrophic" injuries are often fatal at the time, he added. Hughes lost consciousness almost immediately after being hit and had to be resuscitated on the field, but was in "reasonable condition" when he was taken to hospital.

After being rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Hughes underwent surgery and part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain. However, the injury proved too severe and two days later he died.

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