If the aim of The Hundred is to get more young fans engaging with cricket, on Tuesday at Lord’s it seemed like Deandra Dottin was helping achieve that aim brilliantly. She hit successive boundaries, winning the match for her side (London Spirit) by just two balls. But just before hitting those two winning shots, she took off her helmet.
Dottin was subsequently voted the “Match Hero” (Player of the Match); her decision to bat without a helmet for the last five balls was praised by the Sky commentators, and some journalists, as signalling that she “meant business”.
In fact, Dottin’s decision to remove her helmet put her in clear danger; while the media coverage praising her decision was both dangerous and irresponsible.
The tragic death of 25-year-old Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes in 2014, two days after being hit on the back of the head by a cricket ball, was a reminder of how dangerous our sport can be. Hughes was wearing a helmet, of course; nonetheless research shows that modern cricket helmets – which have been in widespread use in women’s cricket for two decades – offer the best protection against potentially lethal or life-changing injuries.
Dottin is well aware of the dangers head injuries can pose. In November 2019, her West Indies teammate Chinelle Henry became the first woman to necessitate the invocation of the ICC’s new “concussion substitute” rule in international cricket, when she dived into an advertising board, hit her head, and suffered from a prolonged concussion, leading to her absence for the rest of the series against India.
As a journalist, I recently underwent training with the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), a non-profit organisation which aims to support those with and raise awareness of concussion. Their Media Project offers education for working journalists to ensure appropriate concussion reporting, as science and policy advances.
The CLF media programme offers information about the basics of concussion signs, symptoms and diagnoses; and, crucially, tips on the right – and wrong – ways to cover concussion as a commentator or writer.
Undertaking the programme taught me the importance of never, ever glorifying a player for playing on through a concussion, or referring to them as “heroic” for doing so. Potential concussions, and other head injuries, need to be taken seriously.
Some of those watching suggested on Twitter that Dottin’s rule-break should be overlooked because it was against spin bowling, not pace bowling. But the fact is that facing slower bowling does not make you immune to head injuries: an impact from something as hard as a cricket ball does not have to be very hard to be potentially fatal.
The evidence on the dangers of head injuries in cricket is so clear that in 2015, the ECB introduced a new rule, stating that all batters in professional cricket in England would be required to wear helmets. Dottin’s removal of her helmet was therefore not just irresponsible, it actually broke the rules of the Hundred competition.
The question is, what will the ECB do about it? As of now, no action has been announced. But it is important not to let the incident slide.
Firstly, Dottin is a role model for a generation of young girl (and boy) cricketers watching at home and at the ground. If one of their formative experiences of professional women’s cricket is of their “match hero” pulling off a win by dispensing with her helmet, what kind of message does that send?
Secondly, it is well-known that some cricketers remain convinced that helmets prevent them from performing at their best. In 2016 former England captain Alastair Cook objected to the ICC’s new, safer helmet design, with journalists reporting that he found it uncomfortable, while Sophie Devine is known to prefer to bat helmetless under some circumstances if rules allow. If there are no repercussions for Dottin’s rule-breaking, it may well lead to other players copying her in an attempt to repeat her feat – placing themselves in danger.
The media should take note of this, and consider much more carefully how they report on similar incidents. If it is important to report on potential concussions seriously, it is equally important to report on safety measures in ways that do not glorify those who try to dispense with them.
Praising Dottin for “meaning business” and “smashing it in a bandana” sends out a wrong message to those watching that protective equipment is optional, and hinders performance. This is a terrible message to be sending to anyone, but especially to the ECB’s targeted audience for The Hundred – young girls and boys.
Overall, then, the ECB needs to send out a clear signal to players and fans that removing your helmet while batting is not acceptable. Two possible options would be to dock a point from London Spirit, or to prevent Dottin from playing in the next match.
Would these be drastic sanctions? Yes, they would be. But an action of this type would clearly reinforce the crucial message: A cricket helmet is not optional, because it could just save your life.