London: Too many batsmen around the world — like Kieron Pollard of West Indies, Alex Hales and Darren Maddy of England, Callum Ferguson of Australia and Daniel Flynn of New Zealand — have suffered serious head injuries in spite of wearing a helmet.
The helmet may have saved these batsmen from being hit flush on the head as if they had been wearing an old-fashioned cap. But the ball has still either squeezed through the grille or else forced the grille into the batsman’s face.
Hence a trading estate in Brislington has become an important place on the cricket map.
It is on the outskirts of Bristol, a few hundreds yards from the Brislington club where Greg Chappell scored the first century in a televised Sunday league match, for Somerset against Gloucestershire.
On the ground floor of one of the units, a new type of helmet is assembled from parts that are all manufactured in Britain. Only the grille, in either steel or lighter titanium, is made in China.
This Ayrtek helmet looks different to all previous models of batting — and wicketkeeping — helmet. And it is no coincidence that James Taylor of Nottinghamshire looked like a cyclist when he wore it in his two Tests for England last summer.
When a ball hits this new kind of helmet, it is deflected. The force of the impact is diffused, just as the air rushes past the head of the helmeted cyclist.
Its other main feature is that you pump it with air just before you go in to bat, pushing a rubber button about fifteen times to inflate it so that the helmet fits your head exactly.
The helmet then stays in place if and when you are hit on the head. The grille isn’t forced into the face, breaking the nose — as in Ferguson’s case — or teeth, as in Flynn’s.
There was a perfect illustration when Somerset’s Alfonso Thomas bounced Keith Barker of Warwickshire in the CB40 final of 2010.
When the ball, heading straight for his eyes, hit Barker, the helmet stayed in place. No damage.
This Air Cushioned Impact System was designed by Ayrtek’s Tom Milsom when he was studying Sports Technology at Wolverhampton university.
He inflated batting gloves with air, again to reduce the ball’s impact, before spotting a gap in the market and moving on to helmets.