Cricket deaths detailed in new research

Cricket fatalities have declined dramatically since the 1980s when helmets became compulsory, with the most common cause of death in the past 30 years being commotio cordis following a blow over the heart, according to research published online today by the Medical Journal of Australia.

The death of Phillip Hughes in 2014 prompted the research by Dr Peter Brukner, former doctor for the Australian cricket team and professor of Sports Medicine at La Trobe University, and his colleagues. Hughes was struck by a ball on the back of his neck, below the protection of his helmet, causing dissection of his vertebral artery. Vertebral artery dissection with subsequent subarachnoid haemorrhage (VAD/SAH) is not considered to be a head injury.

Dr Brukner and his co-authors undertook an extensive search for details of cricket fatalities, primarily focusing on print media reports, together with a secondary review of the National Coronial Information System (for 2001–2016) to identify cases not identifiable in the media.

“We obtained details of 174 deaths directly related to cricket (i.e. not including cardiac etc events), the first being in 1858 and the most recent the death of Hughes in 2014,” Brukner and colleagues wrote. “Ages ranged from a young baby to a 78-year-old umpire. The numbers of deaths, separated into those related to organised and informal play, increased until the 1930s and 1940s, and steadily declined from the 1950s.

“Only three deaths have been recorded since 2000. There were 83 deaths in organised matches or training and 91 in informal settings (31 while playing in a schoolyard and 60 in backyard, street, or beach cricket games).

Of the 83 people who died playing “organised” cricket (as opposed to the 91 who died in informal settings, such as backyard, street and beach cricket games), details were available for 72: 45 batsmen, 11 fielders, one bowler, six wicketkeepers, three spectators, three umpires, one bystander, and two players who were struck by errant balls while preparing the pitch before play.

Of the 45 batsmen, 26 died of head injuries, 13 of commotio cordis after being struck over the heart, three of the consequences of abdominal injuries, two of VAD/SAH, and one from another cause.

“The most striking feature of our findings was the reduced number of fatalities since helmets have been generally worn by batsmen and close-in fielders,” Brukner and colleagues concluded.

“It is likely that the introduction of helmets for batsmen and close-in fielders has reduced the incidence of deaths in cricket, and almost eliminated deaths from blows to the head causing intracerebral haemorrhage.

“In the past 30 years, three cricket-related deaths have been attributed to commotio cordis, two to VAD/SAH, and none to head injuries.

“Efforts to protect players, particularly batsmen, from commotio cordis and VAD/SAH should be undertaken.”

Dr Peter Brukner   0418 351 009 / 03 9509 6964

Dr Tom Gara    0420 533440 / 08 71224034

Media Contact: Anastasia Salamastrakis  0428 195 464