November 03, 2016

PERTH, Australia (AP) A coroner who held an inquest into the death of international batsman Phillip Hughes has recommended that Cricket Australia review its laws on dangerous and unfair bowling to remove ambiguity, and urged the sport's governing body to mandate the use of extra neck protection on batting helmets.

New South Wales state coroner Michael Barnes handed down his findings Friday, three weeks after a five-day hearing into the circumstances of Hughes' death concluded in Sydney.

At the inquest, a lawyer for the Hughes family said the 25-year-old test cricketer was subjected to verbal abuse and an extraordinary amount of short-pitch bowling, or bouncers, before he was fatally struck on the back of the head and neck by a steeply bouncing bowl by Sean Abbott during a domestic first-class match in November 2014.

But Barnes ruled that it was a ''tragic accident,'' finding that Hughes was experienced in handling high-bouncing deliveries, that there was no malice intended and that there was no failure to enforce rules by the umpires that contributed to the death.

''A minuscule misjudgment or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences,'' Barnes said in his findings. ''There was no suggestion the ball was bowled with malicious intent. Neither the bowler nor anyone else was to blame for the tragic outcome.''

The match between New South Wales and South Australia states ended abruptly when Hughes suddenly collapsed on the pitch at the Sydney Cricket Ground after being struck by a so-called bouncer, or short-pitched delivery. He was taken to a nearby hospital but died two days later from a brain hemorrhage caused by a torn vertebral artery.

The coronial inquest was called to investigate whether the nature of play contributed to the risk, and the response by stadium and cricket staff and officials.

As well as his recommendations to Cricket Australia, Barnes directed the New South Wales state cricket association and the stadium operators to review and improve medical and safety protocols for players, officials and staff to ensure a faster response to emergency situations.

Barnes said Cricket Australia needed to review its regulations on playing conditions because the laws regarding limits on short-pitch bowling and what constituted a dangerous or unfair delivery were too open to interpretation.

''An analysis of the laws in question showed there is ambiguity in their wording which may make interpretation challenging,'' Barnes said. ''Further, the umpires who gave evidence acknowledged that more guidance in how the laws should be interpreted and applied would be of assistance.''

Barnes also found no evidence that verbal abuse, or sledging, had contributed to the death, but did question its place in the game.

''Hopefully the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect upon whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants,'' Barnes said. ''An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside.''

At a news conference in Perth, where Australia was playing South Africa in a test match, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said coronial process ''has been a stark reminder of that terrible tragedy. We want to do everything we can to avoid this sort of thing happening again in the future.''

He said the recommendations on protective neck guards would be implemented ''as soon as practical'' in first-class games.

''In terms of the scientific evidence that actually supports they make a difference, it's not actually there yet,'' Sutherland said. ''Once we get to that stage we'll mandate it ... we hope to get to that stage as soon as possible.''

Sutherland also responded to questions about the role of ''sledging'' in the game, saying it was OK as long as it didn't go too far.

''On-field banter is something that has always been part of the game but when that banter turns to abuse, that crosses the line to something different,'' he said. ''That's not in the spirit of the game.

''If it has become a problem, I'd say the umpires are not doing their job ... we don't see a lot of reports for that sort of behavior.''

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