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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Batsmen play dangerous game
By Caroline Cheese

David Fulton
Kent's David Fulton may be looking for a new helmet

With the likes of Shoaib Ahktar and Brett Lee pounding in to bowl, the temptation for most of us would be to don full body armour replete with a motorcycle helmet, visor pulled firmly shut.

Professional cricketers cannot afford that luxury - as Kent captain David Fulton found to his cost.

In pre-season training, Fulton was in the nets facing a bowling machine when a ball found the gap between the visor and the peak of his helmet, hitting him on his right eye.

A scan revealed a permanent scar on the retina and Fulton has been told he is unlikely to recover 100% vision in that eye.

"I will not necessarily need 100% vision to continue playing," said Fulton.

"Because I am right-handed and cricket is a side-on game it is a left-eye dominant sport for me. In time the left-eye will compensate for any loss of vision in the right."

It is not the first time the dangers involved in cricket have been exposed in such worrying circumstances in recent months.

Alex Tudor temporarily lost vision in his left eye when he was struck on the head by a Lee bouncer during the third Ashes Test in Perth.

Australia's Brett Lee
The likes of Brett Lee have made batting a precarious activity

And West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan was stretchered off after he too was hit during a World Cup match against Sri Lanka.

He later returned to finish his innings in heroic style, albeit against the orders of doctors concerned he may have suffered concussion.

Jon Hardy, managing director of helmet manufacturer Masuri, believes technology has gone as far as it can go in preventing such accidents.

"We have developed helmets as far as we can with the materials that are currently available," he said.

"Of course, helmets could be safer but top players are always going to go for something that does not affect their performance in any way and hope that their judgement will get them out of trouble."

Players have the option of adjusting the helmet grill to prevent the ball hitting them in the face - but most players choose not to in favour of maintaining full vision.

"The visor started off simply as a jaw protector because the batsmen didn't want their vision restricted," explains Hardy.

"As time has gone on, people have got more used to visors and a lot more people have had them closed up to make sure the ball doesn't go through.

"But players have to be given the option of risking their safety in favour of having full vision.

Lance Kulsener (left) and Nasser Hussain
Klusener (left) and Hussain choose wildly different helmet styles

"Lance Klusener, for example, chooses to wear a full visor, while you could probably get a rugby ball through the gap in Nasser Hussain's helmet.

"At the end of the day players accept that it's a dangerous sport and always will be to some extent."

Brian Lara, currently captaining the West Indies against Australia, is now wearing a helmet weighing just 240 grammes - a vast improvement on the one he might have been wearing just two years ago which weighed nearer 800 grammes.

But technology has come at a cost.

"We're trying to make the helmets as light as possible - but that doesn't mean that they're necessarily any safer," said Hardy.

"A heavy helmet will upset the batsman's balance and their whole performance would be affected."

Meaning top batsmen like Fulton, who has in the past been tipped for an England call-up, will continue to risk their health in the pursuit of runs.

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