Phillip Hughes dies from an injury playing cricket. A nation mourns. David Packman remembers.
Australian test cricketer, Phillip Hughes, 25, died on Thursday after he was hit in the neck by a short-pitched delivery two days prior. David Packman looks at the outpouring of emotion in Australia after this most freakish and tragic of sporting accidents.
Last Tuesday, my country held its collective breath as a young sporting hero fought for his life after a freakish accident at the Sydney Cricket Ground during a domestic match. We were then united in grief when he ultimately lost his battle two days later.
While attacking bowling should, I believe, remain an integral part of the game, it’s still fair to say that one single delivery may well change cricket immeasurably. While they inherently knew the damage that could be inflicted by a ball made of leather and cork, I’m certain most bowlers were never acutely aware of the fact that in their hands they held a projectile capable of taking a life.
Cricket is an intimate part of my youth—of what it means to me to be Australian. These days, I don’t follow it quite so passionately, but even the sound of the game on TV—the leather on willow, the burbling commentary—is so soothing it can send me into a peaceful summer afternoon trance, in an instantly familiar “everything is OK with the world” kind of way. I can immediately unwind to a background noise that I’ve grown up with. These days, I don’t so much say, “I watched the cricket” but rather, “I had the cricket on.” It’s an important distinction to make. It’s just a natural uncomplicated part of life.
As it has always been in Australia, anyone who has ever donned the “baggy green” and represented the nation at the highest level on the cricketing field holds a revered place in the fabric of our society that is difficult to comprehend for those who have not grown up with the game.
Phil Hughes was, of course, a member of this elite group.
That said, I will admit to not knowing much about the man. I understood he was a prodigious talent with an enviable batting record—and that experts were saying his best was yet to come—but that was almost all I knew.
What I could not miss, however, was the cheeky grin and the eyes that seemed to, well, shine. You couldn’t help but be drawn in by the man. And what I’ve witnessed in the past week has shown me many more things—not the least of which is that Hughes made a profound impact on everyone that knew him.
That the US media covered this tragedy—in a sport they generally show little interest in—just goes to show just how far and wide the impact has spread. The story even led the New York Times website for a period last Friday. However, other than covering the specifics of the accident and the highlights of Hughes’ career, I think what’s missing for those outside our country is just what a deep impact his death has made on the Australian psyche.
It also proves—yet again—that Australians do a spectacular job of paying respect to their fallen heroes.
The community respect shown by the simple but touchingly poignant #putoutyourbats for example—started when a local Sydney man placed a cricket bat outside his home and posted the image on social media. Before long, bats were on display outside homes across the country. It wasn’t long before our Prime Minister Tony Abbott had even done the same in front of his residence, Kirribilli House.
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) November 29, 2014
Over the weekend, junior cricketers across the country retired on 63 runs, the number of runs Hughes had made before he was struck by that fatal blow.
Earlier on Saturday, the captain of the Australian cricket team, Michael Clarke, valiantly tried to keep his emotions in check as he fronted the media to make an official statement. I was listening on the radio as I drove home, and quite frankly, I had to just pull over.
The tributes and stories continue to pour in. I read how Hughes’ batting coach pleaded with his mate to “get up, little fella, get up”.
As the Australian summer rolls in each year, it brings with it the much-anticipated arrival of a travelling international test cricket team, here to take on the might of Australia on home soil – “the tourists”, as we like to call them. This year, it is India, but as it stands, the first test has been postponed. No new date has been announced. This summer will be distinctly different.
With that, I will let the final word go to the esteemed Australian wordsmith who covers numerous topics, but especially cricket, Gideon Haigh, in his tribute to a “good young man”.