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Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….

Complete quote: “The people can say what they like. I have been hit on the head four times, once by a Larwood bouncer in 1931 which caused a wound in which six stitches were inserted. I am still suffering recurrent headaches due to that bashing. Believe me, I’m taking no more risks. One of Constantine’s deliveries was like a bullet, and if it had hit me, I would have gone to kingdom come. My wife made the cap out of cloth lined with rubber. It is a very fine job, but a little bit heavy on a hot day. Nevertheless, it protects the temples. I don’t mind my face altered or my teeth knocked out if my head is protected. I don’t think other players will get similar caps. They wear pads and abdominal and chest protectors but have not the courage to wear a head protector.”

By: Patsy Hendren, 1933.

Bodyline, as we have seen, had shaken the core of cricket to the hilt as Douglas Jardine’s men brought the urn home in 1932-33. There was much furore over the use of fast bouncers and fielders behind short-leg, but the laws stayed put – at least for the time being. If anything, Jardine and his fast bowlers, especially Harold Larwood, were hailed as heroes back home.

Little did England know that they would be given a taste of their own medicine when they hosted West Indies in 1933.

The West Indians boasted of a quartet of genuine fast bowlers to match Larwood, Bill Voce, Bill Bowes, and “Gubby” Allen. George John was no longer around, but Manny Martindale, Learie Constantine, George Francis, and Herman Griffith were all very quick.

West Indian captain Jackie Grant, while not as ruthless as Jardine, never quite held his pacemen back – and why would he?

Martindale was the quickest of them all. In 1929-30 he had split the jaw of England captain Bob Wyatt in four pieces. At Leyton on this tour, he bowled at full pace, peppering batsmen with bouncers, and finishing with 8/32 and 4/73. In the next match, he routed the students of Cambridge with 4/34 in the first innings.

But the MCC side they took on next, at Lord’s, was stronger than any they had faced on that tour. Jardine himself led the side, one that included Percy Chapman, “Young Jack” Hearne, and – Patsy Hendren.

Now Hendren was no ordinary batsman. He would amass 57,611 runs in his First-Class career, the third-most in history; and only Jack Hobbs would beat his tally of 170 hundreds.

He was a master off the back-foot stroke, but at 45 his reflexes were probably not what they used to be. To add to that, he had been hit on the head two seasons ago at Lord’s, had fallen unconscious, had left the ground on a stretcher, and had required six stitches.

Nevertheless, he was having a decent summer, with 76 against Hampshire, 162* against Lancashire (out of Middlesex’s 299), and 59 against Gloucestershire.

Headley got 129 out of 309. Then the fast bowlers jolted the hosts. Constantine had Hearne caught-behind, while Martindale sent one through the defence of night-watchman Walter Franklin. Stumps were drawn at the fall of Franklin’s wicket.

Joe Hulme, unbeaten overnight, walked out to the middle the next morning. And then the Lord’s crowd gasped, for accompanying Hulme was a curious figure – or rather, a familiar figure in an unfamiliar, even grotesque avatar.

Hendren, Middlesex’s own son, was donning a cap, the kind of which nobody had seen at Lord’s – or probably on any cricket ground till then. It had not one peak but three. Other than the conventional straight peak there were two others, one protruding from each side of the head.

In Lord’s, Geoffrey Moorhouse described the cap as one with “three peaks, two of them covering his ears and temples, lined with foam rubber.”

Patsy Hendren, in his “helmet”, flicks one from Learie Constantine. Image Courtesy: The Mail
Patsy Hendren, in his “helmet”, flicks one from Learie Constantine. Image Courtesy: The Mail

Hendren later credited his wife Minnie with the design. He admitted that “he needed protection after being struck on the head two years earlier by a new-fashioned short-pitched bouncer.”

Though Constantine got him for 6 in the first innings, Hendren top-scored with 61 in the second. It must have been a cumbersome thing, for he insisted the umpire held whenever he stood at the non-striker’s end.

The cricket fraternity was obviously scandalised (it was Lord’s, for heaven’s sake!). Daily Sketch called it “a cross between an airman’s helmet and an Eskimo’s headgear”. Taking no heed of the obvious perils, they criticised Hendren: “Patsy would be well advised to leave this ridiculous contraption in the pavilion, or better still, send it to Australia.”

Similarly, Daily Mail: “Hendren’s three-peak cap has cracked another glorious cricket tradition. No more excited babble of comment was ever caused by novel headgears as began at the Lord’s when a strangely head-muzzled figure, suggesting baseball or fencing and at some angles reminiscent of about wrestler, walked into the wicket. The bowlers got a shock, and diehards dozing in the sun discussing the good old times were electrified.”

Alex Britten was relatively rational – and sympathetic: “Patsy’s protective headgear looks like Sherlock Holmes’ hat — the three peaks ready to ward off bumpers.”

Hendren had to respond to this criticism, however illogical. He promised not to use his “helmet” against anyone barring Larwood, Voce, Bowes, or the West Indians. He did well, averaging 57 that summer for his 3,186 runs. He discarded it after the season.

Dickie Dodds of Essex tried to emulate Hendren in the 1950s, donning a biking helmet under his cap, but it did not quite take off till Dennis Amiss started using one in 1977. In 1978 Graham Yallop wore one in a Test match.

There was still some criticism from purists, but Wisden editor Norman Preston came out in support in 1979: “How could I, as an observer in a safe and comfortable seat, blame the players for wearing something to protect themselves from serious injury?”

Not everyone was as unprejudiced.

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