When I first started playing cricket the wearing of helmets when batting was compulsory for juniors. No one really wanted to wear them, but we had no choice and soon enough we hardly noticed that we were batting in a “lid”. As soon as you were old enough to play in the seniors, which for me was when I was fourteen and a half, you were given a choice as to if you wanted to bat in a helmet, club cap, or hat. The strangeness of the situation that it was mandatory for me to don a helmet when I played against a thirteen year old kid in the morning and a choice when I played against fully grown men in the afternoon escaped me at the time.
At first, as I was a top order batsman and would be facing the new hard ball and the faster bowlers I wore a helmet in the seniors too, but by the time I was sixteen I'd switched to a club cap. When it came to my sporting pursuits, I was a very confident (some may say arrogant) teenager. I've often heard it said that teenagers consider themselves to be bulletproof, and when it came to footy and cricket, I was certainly no exception.
The thing that I didn't properly take into account was the difference in bounce. It's not a great deal, sometimes around about half the width of a cricket bat. That difference in bounce is enough to mean that my pull shot, instead of meeting the ball with the middle of the bat, instead caught the top edge and sent the ball flying straight into my face. At first I thought that I was fine. In fact, I remember telling the umpire (my High School maths teacher) that I'd be ok to continue batting once I managed to clear my eyes. He told me to look up at him, which I naturally did. Then he told me that I wouldn't be playing cricket for the rest of the day, and perhaps not for a lot longer than that, and that we were going to the hospital.
The ball had hit me flush on the cheekbone and fractured it, pushing it in a fair way. I required surgery and from memory I didn't play again that season. Whilst the result does sound bad I do consider myself to be lucky, as if the ball had hit me just a bit higher it would have struck my eye, and a bit lower and I might have lost some teeth. From that point on, no matter if I was facing fast bowling, medium pace, trundlers, spinners or donkey drops I wore a helmet. While it took a month or so to recover from the surgery, and at the time I didn't think there were any issues, in hindsight I suspect it took a few years to fully recover mentally from the impact.
Being struck in the head and having facial surgery is, all in all, something I think people should avoid - it's not a good way to spend the last few months of summer!
In spite of what you have read above and the fact that I personally always wear a lid when I bat, I think that this outcome is the correct one. I believe that grown adults should be able to choose what protective equipment they wear, using their own experience, circumstances and judgement to come to the best decision for them. The responsibility for these choices and the consequences naturally go to the player. If you don't want to wear a helmet that's ok, but if something goes wrong you only have yourself to blame. I've heard a few say that there's no way they could wear one as they can't see past the grill and that if the rule were to come into force, they would have to retire.
This is part of the strange thing though. Most of the players younger than me always wear a helmet. It's only those of my age (very late thirties) or above that don't wear them. This means that as the older players slowly retire, the resistance to such a change in rule will diminish. Why force it on people now when it will be an easy sell in seven or ten years?
Even though the clubs have voted to stop the introduction of such a rule, the issue is far from resolved. Cricket Australia are very keen to have helmets worn by everyone, and are saying that by the 2019/20 season helmets will be compulsory for all players in certain situations. If I am still playing by then I hope my non helmet wearing friends can adapt to the changes, because I am not sure playing cricket will feel the same without them.
You can follow Martin on Twitter via @murdriggs