Never before has the cricketing world been stunned into such silence.
As many of the members of the Australian cricket team left St. Vincent hospital in Sydney on Thursday, their pain and anguish was there for everyone to see. They and the whole sporting world had lost, as Shane Warne called Phillip Hughes, ‘one of the good guys’.
Hughes’s death has affected many all over the world and it is a testament to his character and personality that there have been hundreds of thousands of tweets from many sporting fans and the general public paying tribute to a man that everyone who knew of him, respected.
As a rising bouncer from now devastated young bowler Sean Abbott hit Hughes on the back of the neck, players went over to see if the former South Australia batsman was OK. When he collapsed however, panic soon set in.
Yet even as Hughes was rushed to St. Vincent Hospital, amid the utter shock and devastation amongst those who knew him, there was a feeling that Hughes would battle though and one day continue living his dream as an international cricketer. They would expect nothing less from a guy who was a typical Aussie fighter.
So when new filtered through that Hughes had passed away, the whole sporting world stopped. This couldn’t have happened. Such a talented, passionate and kind young man died playing the game he truly loved.
It underlined the true risk and danger that comes with playing sport. In Boxing, one jab to the wrong place of an opponent’s head or body could prove fatal. In Formula 1 or any other form of race driving, one second of miscalculation could prove the end to a driver’s life. The same goes to Horse Racing, if the jockey falls on his/her neck then they could suffer life-ending head or spinal injuries, and Rugby if the wrong body falls on the wrong player at the wrong time. All these sports have huge health risks associated with them.
Cricket however, is different. It is a game that can give you bruises, cuts and even broken bones, but rarely ever before has a player died as a cause of playing the game. Cricket was never meant to be a killing ground.
And that is perhaps what makes Hughes’s death so shocking; he didn’t die from a common cause such as a car crash or a terminal illness, but from playing the game of cricket in his typically aggressive manner.
What is perhaps even more painful when remembering Hughes’s death is that this was a man who was on the comeback trail.
Having been out of the Australian side for over a year, Hughes was consistently scoring runs at the top of the order for South Australia and was widely expected to replace captain Michael Clarke for the now postponed first test against India in Brisbane. It could have been the start of great things for the exciting left-hander.
Hughes’s first test innings lasted only four balls. Coming into his first test series in South Africa in 2009, Hughes had already scored 1647 first-class runs at an average of 58.82, including five centuries. But when the young 20 year-old edged a typically rising short ball to the keeper from Morne Morkel, a test of character was already at the helm. But in what we would find out to be typical Hughes fashion in the years to come, he dug in and made 75 in the second innings. It was an incredible show of mental toughness for such a young man in his debut test.
Yet it was during the second test in Durban where he really announced himself on the international stage. All of a sudden, the short and wide delivery in which the South Africans felt they could utilise to exploit a weakness in Hughes’s batting, became Hughes’s go-to shot. The young opener played with such freedom and fearlessness and flayed the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for 116 and 160 in the first and second innings respectively, and in doing so become the youngest player in the history of test cricket to score two centuries in a test match. People knew that a special talent had arrived on the scene.
Unfortunately for Hughes however, Freddie came to town. After a series of dashing off-side strokes from Hughes at the start of the 2009 Ashes, Flintoff and co. realised that the best way to bowl at the young left-hander was tight and to tuck him up for room. This theory certainly worked, with Hughes being dropped after the second test at Lords. From then on, Hughes could not nail down a starting spot in the Australian side.
But despite the setbacks in his form throughout his short career, nobody ever recalled Hughes moaning or giving up on his dream. It just made him stronger. From having a rusty technique at the start of his career, Hughes developed a much more compact and solid approach to batting and the consistency showed thereafter. He made 243* for Australia ‘A’ against South Africa ‘A’, along with a one-day double hundred in state cricket. Such of the stellar nature of his performances, the Australian selectors soon identified Hughes as a key part of their future plans. The wanted Hughes to be their Sehwag/Hayden/Dilshan type of performer at the top of the order who would give the side a flying start. There was no doubting that he would handle these expectations admirably in the near future.
So when the opportunity was on the horizon for Hughes to replace the unfit Clarke for the upcoming test series opener against India at The Gabba, there was a general consensus that we would see a much more consistent Hughes, but still with the same sparkling stroke play that caught the eye of so many throughout his career.
Sadly however, it is a call-up that the Australian selectors can no longer make.
The death of Phillip Hughes has sent shockwaves not only throughout Australia, but throughout the world. The loss of a superb talent and person will deeply hurt everyone who knew him, including the Australian players who despite having to recover in time for the postponed series against India, will be determined to play the extravagant form of cricket that their friend so dearly loved. After all, it’s what ‘Hughesy’ would have wanted.