By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - As sports across the board explore ways to prevent concussion, cricket finds itself polarised over a head-injury specialist's suggestion to ban bouncers, a fast bowler's favourite weapon to intimidate a batsman, in youth cricket.
"Does cricket really require intimidation to make it interesting?" said Michael Turner, the medical director and CEO of the International Concussion and Head Injury Research Foundation.
"I do not believe that it should be allowed in matches involving players under 18," Turner told Reuters.
Former athletes and leaders from major UK sports discussed head injuries in a virtual summit with government ministers this week, reflecting the severity of the issue.
The discussion has gained traction after several former players filed a class-action lawsuit against rugby's governing bodies in December.
Since Australian Phil Hughes' death in 2014 two days after being felled by a bouncer, cricket has welcomed improved helmet standards and concussion substitutes but Turner does not think it is enough.
Helmets can prevent skull fractures but cannot protect a batsman from concussion, which can lead to "well documented" long-term problems, he warned.
"All sports are reviewing their safety protocols in the light of the rapidly expanding knowledge about concussion and the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) seems to be in that process at the moment."
Cricket laws currently allow bouncers up to head high, while anything higher is judged a no-ball.
The MCC, custodian of the game's laws, is duty-bound to ensure those laws were applied in a safe manner, a spokesman said in a statement to Reuters.
"With research into concussion in sport having increased significantly in recent years, it is appropriate that MCC continues to monitor the laws on short-pitched bowling, as it does with all other laws," the MCC spokesman said.
Not everyone sees merit in Turner's proposal to ban bouncers in youth cricket.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan, who attended Tuesday's virtual summit on head injuries, has dismissed the "ridiculous suggestion".
"It would be much more dangerous for young kids to only be exposed to the short ball for the first time when they play men's cricket at a high level," Vaughan wrote in the Daily Telegraph last week.
"They just would not be equipped to face it.
"If we ban bouncers then what next? Get rid of short leg? You get hit far more fielding there than you do as a batsman."
Auckland Cricket, however, has bought into Turner's idea and decided any delivery above the shoulder height would be deemed a no-ball in some grades.
"Our founding objective or principle is to provide a safe, inclusive and enjoyable environment for all," its community manager Dean Bartlett told the New Zealand Herald on Saturday.
"Therefore, if the ball is flinging around at your head, it's not necessarily safe and inclusive."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Michael Perry)