February 28, 2006 Cricket is one of the oldest and most original of all modern sports, originating somewhere between 700 and 900 years ago in England, with international competition beginning a century ago and almost no major rule changes since. As incredible as it may seem to the uninitiated in this most beguiling of contests, each international match lasts 30 hours over five days and often ends without a result, with each international series comprising five such matches (150 hours) also frequently ending without a clear winner. Played with a small, very hard ball which is bowled (thrown with a straight arm), at up to 160 km/h, it is illustrative of the staid mindset afflicting the governing body of the sport that helmets for the human being in the firing line were not introduced until 30 years ago despite a history of horrendous injury.
Like nearly everything else in a sport afflicted by stubborn traditionalism, the design of the cricket helmet has trailed well behind the technologies available and with mid-2004 university tests showing that helmets can delay a batsman’s reactions by up to a quarter of a second, you’d think that we might have seen a rethink of cricket helmet design since then, but we haven’t noticed one. Inspired by those tests, designer Ravinder Sembi has reengineered the cricket helmet with a view to overcoming this fundamental problem.
Tests were conducted in 2003 and 2004 at the Northumbria University School of Psychology and Sport Sciences by Dr Nick Neave investigating the physical and mental demands during an intense batting practice over eight overs when wearing a standard non-vented safety helmet and when not wearing a helmet at all. The research revealed that wearing helmets led to significant attentional impairments and slower reaction times in certain tests. Given that these tests were conducted in not-so-sunny England, and not in the semi-tropical climates where most cricketers play, such as the midday sun of Mumbai, Lahore, Brisbane etcetera, the results could be indicative of a huge potential breakthrough in cricketing accessories.
The findings were presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference at Imperial College, London in April, 2004 and hopefully some of the major sporting companies have been paying attention, as we’ve yet to see a significant change in design from the fully-enclosed helmet of recent times.
The remifications of these findings will not only have an impact on cricketers, but also for anyone who routinely wears a helmet for safety purposes, from construction workers and military personnel through to other sports uses including horse riding, motor racing, motorcycling, cycling or whenever a significant increase in body temperature is likely to occur.
"Whereas the head only accounts for 7-10% of the total body surface, temperatures at the head are typically higher than in other body regions,” said Dr Nick Neave.
"Helmet use reduces airflow over the head and this has led to speculation that individuals who routinely wear safety helmets may be prone to heat-related stress and tasks requiring a high degree of attention can be more affected by this.
"Our research has revealed that whilst wearing a helmet has no detrimental physiological affect for the user, it did lead to significant attentional impairments and slower reaction times in certain test conditions which could affect those cognitive skills essential for successful batting performance, just as many cricketers have suspected.
"Protective helmets recommended for use in cricket are not required to have ventilation gaps which would allow for heat to transfer from the head, although some teams do use them.
"Correct and rapid decision making is essential for a batsman at the crease and our research could have significance not just for cricket but for other mentally demanding sports and professions where people have to wear head protection.
"We do however stress that improved safety when wearing a helmet far outweighs the small negative effects of wearing one."
The tests, carried out by Dr Neave and colleagues Dr Mark Moss and John Emmet, used a sensitive computerised test battery to measure temperature, hydration and fatigue levels before exercise and after 30 minutes of intense batting practice.
The publication of the Northumbria University research may not have resulted in any significant changes in cricket helmet design on the shelves at sports stores, but it did inspire Ravinder Sembi to look at what might be possible in one of his final degree projects at Ravensbourne College.
Sembi’s cricket helmet allows full ventilation of air around the head, considerably reducing heat build-up compared to enclosed helmet designs with the additional advantage of being much lighter too.
“Since I play a bit of cricket, I noticed a few problems with the existing helmets,” said Sembi. “Also, watching test matches, I noticed that the players were affected with the helmets and even the commentators have mentioned it when games are played in hot conditions.”
“So I researched things further and found the Northumbria research and recognised how little was being done to address the problems, so I created this helmet.”
“At present, cricket helmets provide protection for the batsman’s head from cricket balls but in my mind, they haven’t really addressed all the issues. Cricket helmets protect well, but can discomfort the batsmen, with heat build up, weight issues and vision obstructions. These problems can distract and even distress the batsmen causing him or her to under perform.
“My cricket helmet provides air ventilation for batsmen for cooling the head, and it is also light in weight and offers improved visibility. In particular, this helmet will improve the batsman’s endurance in long innings.
“I went for a geodesic structure to enable the maximum strength while enabling the maximum ventilation, and also to reduce the weight of the helmet. The geodesic structure is ideal for absorbing the impact of a cricket ball and distributing the energy evenly across the face of the helmet absorbing the shock.
“The helmet is also designed with two forward-facing vent holes to promote airflow when running, conducting the air inside the helmet up and away from the head.
“The first layers of the guard are polycarbonate plastic to allow the batsmen to have a clear view with plenty of peripheral vision, and I have used a thin film on the inside to stop and shatter fragments going into the face in the case of being struck. The film also has an anti-reflective coating, similar to the clear guards on ice hockey helmets.
“The metallic guard is made from titanium for both strength and light weight. I also played around with the colours and settled on a 20% grey to give get the lowest reflection value.
“I would ideally like for this project to be absorbed by a big sporting goods manufacturer like Nike, Puma, Gunn & Moore, Slazenger or Masuri and further developed.”
Ravinder’s aspirations are to work as a product designer for a sporting goods company. Though based in the UK, he will “move anywhere for the right job.” Ravinder can be contacted by email or via his web site where a range of his other design work can be seen. We’ve included a few of his other designs in the images section.