The eye injury that ended Mark Boucher's cricket career


When South African cricketer Mark Boucher suffered a lacerated sclera after being hit by a ricocheting bail, he suffered irreparable vision loss and photophobia, forcing him to retire from international cricket. It highlighted the danger cricket can pose to a cricketer's eyes.

In the case of Boucher, his eye was extensively injured and he lost the lens, the iris and the pupil in his left eye.

Need for protective eyewear

The incident also highlighted the need for protective eyewear for all cricket players, not just the wicketkeepers. Not only will wearing protective eyewear protect the eyes from potential injury from flying bats, balls and bails, it can enhance the cricketer’s vision and protect their eyes from UV damage too.

Boucher is not the first cricketer to suffer an eye injury during a game – in 1990 English wicketkeeper Paul Downton was hit in the eye by a bail which forced him to retire, and in 2000 Indian wicketkeeper Saba Karim was hit in the eye by a ball which also resulted in his retirement.

According to one research paper on the risk of eye injuries to wicketkeepers, Boucher was “exposed to 112 incidences where he was wicketkeeping at the moment a batter was bowled by a spin bowler.

Read: Why vision is so crucial in sports

This highlights that, although his overall chance of being exposed to incidences where a spin bowler dismissed the batter by hitting the stumps was relatively low (0.25% of balls bowled by a spin bowler), the chance of being hit in the eye by a bail when this occurs might actually be higher than one would intuitively expect”.

Could glasses have saved Boucher’s eye?

In the paper, in which the authors call for more emphasis to be placed on protective headgear for cricketers, the focus is on both helmets and protective eyewear, which, if worn correctly, may protect cricketer’s eyesight.

However, the authors note that while helmets may protect the head, they may not offer enough protection for the eyes in incidences like Boucher’s where he was hit by a flying bail.

When it comes to protective eyewear however, the authors focused their attention specifically on Boucher’s incident. After viewing footage of the incident they found that given the estimated speed the bail hit him, if he had been wearing spectacle-type occupational eye protectors (high-impact only) and all sport-specific eyewear – there is a good chance it would have been sufficient to protect his eye.

Watch: Mark Boucher talks about the eye injury that ended his international cricketing career

According to their research, while most cricketers only generally opt for sunglasses on the field, their recommendation is that cricketers rather wear polycarbonate lenses to ensure adequate eye protection from impact injuries.

“Polycarbonate protective eyewear with clear lenses is readily available and may be a valuable addition to the kit bag of wicketkeepers to be worn when polycarbonate sunglasses are not required,” they wrote.

Sunglasses also offer eye protection

Modern sport sunglasses may not be polycarbonate, but they still offer a good degree of protection against harmful UV light. And considering that most cricket players spend several house in the sun most days of the week in the heat of summer, this sort of protection is vital for good eye health.

Read: Contact lenses and playing sport?

UV protection can help prevent cataracts, cancer and other eye damage.

Sport-specific eyewear can also:

•    Protect the eyes from impact injuries.
•    Polarised glasses reduce glare and therefore prevent squinting.
•    Prescription lenses can reduce blur, which has been proven to increase performance in ball sports.
•    Certain sunglasses can enhance the colour red against a green background, making it easier to pick up the ball.

However, while ordinary sunglasses may sometimes look the part, they fall short on the cricket field in terms of eye protection as they are not designed to stay on under pressure and could possibly shatter on impact.

Read More:

Common eye injuries

Sunglasses can save your eyes

Symptoms of an eye injury

Image: Cricket stumps, bat and ball from Shutterstock

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