No Duty of Care: Cricket in the 1970s-and-Before

 Michael Roberts

A =Phil Hughes being transported from field, 25 November 2014

B = Duleep Mendis carried to pavilion on 11th June 1975


Phil Hughes was hit on the side of his head (see Pix J) by a bouncer from Sean Abbott of NSW on 25th November 2014 and passed away in hospital on the 27th November – leaving his family and friends as well as both the South Australian and NSW squads devastated.[1] My focus here, however, is on the superior modern-day medical ‘tools’ on hand in the form of a mobile-jeep stretcher bearer and skilled medical attendants.

Contrast the total lack of stretchers and medical aid at the Oval in London in 1975 Mevan Pieris is one of those carrying Duleep Mendis and he notes caustically that the Sri Lankan Board had not provided for a doctor. Moreover, the absence of stretchers at this prestigious cricket ground and the casual perspectives of the cricketing order are captured in two of his notes:

1 = “Not a single Australian offered to help and had done nothing until Dennis [Chanmugam] and I reached the middle (quite a journey from the dressing room) to see Duleep’s eye-balls turning backwards”

2 = “there was no first aid kit” in the players’ room.

The preliminary background question is whether these absences were an aberration associated with Sri Lanka’s status as a minnow in the world of cricket then; or whether such failures in the “duty of care” were generalized throughout the cricket world.[2]

A preliminary answer can be pursued, however, by focusing on the injuries suffered by Rick McCosker of Australia during the Centenary Test at the MCG in March 1977 and the shocking blow encountered by Ric Darling at the Adelaide Oval in 1979. As it happened, the deadly bowler in both instances was England’s Bob Willis.


However, it is Sidarth Mongia’s biographical recounting of the “bouncer magnet” Ric Darling’s career that provides essential ethnographic contextualization for our readings of the situation that unfolded at the Oval in 1975. Ric Darling was South Australia’s opening batsman in that era and “an adventurous hooker and cutter.” In fact, in recounting his career, Darling told Mongia: “I never ducked.”

The result: “a Bob Willis short ball nearly killed Darling, at his home ground, Adelaide Oval, in early 1979.” The blow on jaw and head was not the only causal factor. Darling was chewing gum when batting (a “chewie” in Aussie parlance). The hit from the ball forced both chewie and tongue down Darling’s throat and he blacked out (Mongia 2014).

“John Emburey was the first man to check on Darling, and he thumped his chest to push the gum out. Umpire Max O’Connell gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” But Darling did not, apparently, regain consciousness until he was in hospital.

My own faint memory from talk in South Australia is that the Australian physiotherapist was Darling’s saviour because he retrieved the swallowed tongue. Missing here is information on how he was carried from the batting arena: was there a stretcher available?

Be that as it may, Darling “was discharged [from hospital] in the night, and the next morning he resumed his innings on 0 not out after the fifth wicket had fallen. There was not a moment’s thought given to letting Darling not bat if he didn’t feel like it. When he came out to bat five down, spin was on, but he remembers there was no let-up in bouncers from Ian Botham.”

E – Darling today … as larrikin in image as ever

So, there we have it. Tough hombres, playing cricket like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, Dirty Harry and his spaghetti Westerns. Mongia adds that “Darling doesn’t remember a big deal being made of his courage” and that “worse blows followed in his domestic career.”

That’s it, then: the Australians of that era played unrelenting tough cricket at all levels. The Chappell brothers. Rod Marsh. Dennis Lillee. Jeff Thomson. Tough hombres. They were in the opponent’s ear and face.


Yes, and among them one had Jeff Thomson, the “bullet train.” Thomson’s bowling characteristics have been condensed (!!!) thus: “with a boomerang of an action, Jeff Thomson was perhaps the first slinger to make it to the fore before Lasith Malinga. In 1975, during an exhibition match against the West Indies, Jeff Thomson’s speed was recorded using high-speed cameras. The cameras clocked a speed of 160.45 km/h. He was subsequently measured for speeds in 1976 and clocked higher” (Abhijit 2016).

It is not surprising therefore that even the accomplished Sri Lankan batsmen –Wettimuny and Mendis – were hit. But that has not been the central thrust within my essay. Rather it Mevan Pieris’s observation that “not a single Australian offered to help” and that the Aussies “had done nothing until Dennis [Chanmugam] and I reached the middle.”

The tales around McCosker and Darling indicate that this behaviour was not specific to Asian opponents and little people. All opponents were targets. Australian cricketers. then in the 1970s, took no prisoners. Cricket was war.

It would also seem that the cricketing world writ large, both administrators and players, were not alive to the fact that a cricketer could be killed by that lethal thing — the cricket ball.

It is just as well that cricket has changed for the better.

Just a mite. Intimidation of batsmen by word and glare, or a combination thereof, persists and is permitted by the description of these tactics with the blanketing euphemism “sledging” and the ICC’s wilful blindness on this front.

Hughes had compiled a half-century for South Australia in the morning session of cricket and the afternoon session commenced with pacemen Bollinger and Abbott subjecting him to a barrage of verbals and bouncers – note the combination. During one of the overs at this stage Bollinger had even told Hughes “we will kill you.” (Roberts 2016).

 Dougie Bollinger

   J=Hughes hit

He did not mean it literally of course, But that was the Thomson-Chappell spirit of cricket. How that sits alongside the motto of the MCC Cowdrey Lectures has never been seriously addressed by either the MCC or the ICC.

    ***  ***


Peter Badel: “Former Test opener Rick McCosker still feels pain from 1977 bouncer hit,” Daily Telegraph,  27 November 2014,

Sidarth Mongia: “Ric Darling bouncer magnet,” ……………………………………………

Michael Roberts 2013 “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 27 November 2013,

Michael Roberts 2014 Australian Patriotism and Sacrificial Christian Symbolism embodied in One Image commemorating Phil Hughes,” 29 November 2014,

Michael Roberts 2016 Intimidating Assault Tactics behind Phil-Hughes’ Death by Bouncer,” 27 October 2016,

Michael Roberts 2020 “The Cricketing World in 1975: Glaring Anomalies,” 28 February 2020

Roberts 2007 “Vilification, Zero Tolerance and Double Standards in Cricket,”, 7 November 2007.

Roberts [2006] “Cricket, Dirty Cricket,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Roberts 2003Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 27 November 2013,

Roberts [2002] “Letter to the ICC, 25 November 2002,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 103-06.

Roberts [2001] “Sin bin for verbal Intimidation,” originally printed on 28 April 2001, reprint in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Ben Horne 2016 “Lawyers duel it Out at Inquest into the Death of Cricketer Phil Hughes,” Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2016

Peter Lalor 2016 “Doug Bollinger on Back foot in Phil Hughes Inquest,” The Australian, 13 October 2016,

Peter Lalor 2016 “Coronial Twist catches out Bolly,” The Australian, 13 October 2016

Andrew Webster 2016 “The Sad Divide between the Family of Phillip Hughes and the Cricketing Community,” 14 October 2016,

Peter Lalor 2016b “Sledgers, Bouncers, on Trial at Hughes Inquest,” The Australian, 11 October 2016,

Sam Buckingham Jones 2016 “Bollinger denies kill threat’ to Hughes,” The Australian, 11 October 2016,


[1] See my caustic article on the topic: “Intimidating Assault Tactics behind Phil-Hughes’ Death by Bouncer,” 27 October 2016,

[2] I have, in fact, sent a Set of Questions to my cricketing aficianados pals in UK.

[3] Peter Badell tells us in 2014 that “37 years later [McCosker] still carries some physical scars from his Test of bravery” – Badell 2014.


Filed under accountability, atrocities, Australian culture, australian media, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, ethnicity, heritage, landscape wondrous, life stories, self-reflexivity, Sri Lankan cricket, the imaginary and the real, trauma, unusual people

2 responses to “No Duty of Care: Cricket in the 1970s-and-Before

  1. Lam Seneviratne

    Hughes was killed by a delivery from Abbot not Bollinger

  2. Thank you Lam. I was fully aware that it was Abbott’s ball that hit Hughes but Bollinger had threatened Hughes with bouncers and mouth the over before. Yes, I should have made the combined cricketing assault clear to readers.
    NOTE that the Aussie cricket auhtorities and even the South Australian players (especially the other batsman Tom Cooper) collaborated in the ocver-up at the Coroner’s inquiry. Only one cricketer – a buddy of Phil Hughes and captain of Mosman CC, came out publicly with damnning info. The HUGHES family (pater.mater) were livid furious. My essays were guided by their information.
    Shame on Pat Howard of the Australian Board and Simon Taufel (umpires Supervisor) for their orchestration of the cover-up. shame, too, on the Coroner.

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