One day on and it still doesn’t seem real, the emotions still raw. Australia and the cricketing community has had its heart broken by loss of one of its most gifted and likable sons.
Playing for South Australia against New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday, 26-Test veteran Phillip Hughes, 63 not out, collapsed after being hit in the back of the head by the cricket ball. He never regained consciousness, and passed away two days later. A freak accident; a treasured life lost three days shy of his 26th birthday.
Such a high-profile, beloved sportsperson passing away during their prime is rare in Australian sport. Motorsport aside, to be mortally injured while competing at the elite level is virtually unprecedented in our history.
The outpouring of grief, disbelief, sympathy and admiration has flowed from every stratum and sphere of Australian society – sports fans, non-sports fans, contemporaries, legends, politicians, entertainers – and from all around the cricketing world.
Shocked to hear about Phil. Sad day for cricket. Deepest condolences to family, friends and well wishers. RIP #PhilipHughes
— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) November 27, 2014
To Philip Hughes family, my deepest condolences. To all the players, especially Sean, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Tragic day.
— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) November 27, 2014
The loss of Phillip Hughes is heartbreaking for our country. We grieve for a man who gave his all to the sport he loved. JG
— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) November 27, 2014
Death can sometimes provoke overly rose-tinted homage, but there has not been a hint of hyperbole in any tribute to Hughes– by all accounts, he epitomised the ‘great player, better bloke’ axiom.
Precociously talented, humble, resilient, determined, industrious, self-effacing and Aussie battler-esque, Hughes was admired not only for his exceptional ability with bat in hand, but his character in rebounding from numerous setbacks throughout his almost six-year international career. He was on the verge of another Test recall for the first encounter with India starting in Brisbane next Thursday – a match that may not go ahead as Australian cricket, and the wider world cricketing community, reels from the tragedy.
The second day of the third Test between Pakistan and New Zealand in Sharjah was suspended as a mark of respect, but almost certainly also due to the deep sorrow many in both camps are experiencing.
Suddenly, and somewhat ironically, the sport that endeared Phillip Hughes to so many – and ultimately ended his life – doesn’t seem very important.
But for the last 15 years-plus, cricket was Hughes’ whole world. An A-grade cricketer at just 12, he was earmarked for stardom before he was old enough to shave. The Macksville product was a talented all-round sportsman, playing rugby league alongside Greg Inglis in his NSW north coast hometown.
[The scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval: via Twitter: @TheAdelaideOval]
Relocating to Sydney at age 17, Hughes moved quickly through the ranks, debuting for his state shortly before his 19th birthday and averaging 62.11 in his maiden 2007-08 season, scoring a century in NSW’s Pura Cup final triumph.
His prolific run-gathering domestically resulted in an international call-up for Australia’s tour of South Africa in February 2009, replacing retired great Matthew Hayden at the top of the order. Hughes was dismissed by Dale Steyn for a four-ball duck in his initial Test dig, but recovered to top-score with 75 in the second innings.
Then, in the second Test in Durban, he scored 115 and 160. At 20 years and 96 days, Hughes had become the youngest Australian since the legendary Doug Walters to score a Test century, and the youngest player from any country to score twin tons in a Test match.
The comparisons with Don Bradman were premature, but nevertheless flattering and reflective of Hughes’ remarkable achievement and potential. Diminutive in stature – like so many of the great batsmen – the left-hander boasted a highly unorthodox style, but it seemed Australia’s next great opener had arrived.
A difficult Ashes campaign later that year saw Hughes dropped, but it was seen as merely a bump in the road – even ‘The Don’ was dumped for a Test following a disappointing debut. The next couple of years were marked by inconsistency at the highest level and he was in and out of the Test side.
But Hughes enjoyed another purple patch late in 2011, scoring 126 against Sri Lanka in Colombo and 88 against the Proteas in Johannesburg. A difficult subsequent series against New Zealand – incredibly dismissed caught Guptill, bowled Martin four innings in a row – shunted Hughes into the background once again.
He starred in the 2012-13 summer against Sri Lanka, racking up Test scores of 86 and 87, before smashing 112 in his ODI debut and a sparkling 138 not out (in a team total of just 247) later in the series. Hughes played his last Tests during the 2013 Ashes campaign in England, scoring 81 not out at Trent Bridge, but slipping out of the team after another tough outing at Lord’s.
Hughes provided constant reminders of his class, however; in July, he walloped an extraordinary 202 not out off 151 balls in Australia A’s one-day match with South Africa A in Darwin – the first Australian to score a double-ton in a List A match – before hitting his first-class high-score of 243 not out a month later in a four-day match between the same teams.
Yet another Test renaissance was on the verge of being completed this month, before the Australian cricketing landscape was turned upside down by the most harrowing heartbreak it has even witnessed, in the same first-class arena that Hughes plundered 26 centuries.
The other tragic figure in all of this is Sean Abbott, the NSW youngster who bowled the fateful delivery. The overwhelming support for the devastated Abbott has been heart-warming; he will forever have people telling him it wasn’t his fault, but he will undoubtedly carry the burden of that split-second event for the rest of his life. An Australian T20 and ODI debutant just last month, the 22-year-old’s career is temporarily in tatters. Perhaps the realisation that Hughes would want him to carry on will spur the promising Blues quick.
That same reasoning may ultimately see next week’s Test go ahead as scheduled, a match that would be as emotional and stirring as any in the game’s history. As these dark clouds slowly dissipate in the coming days, players and fans will be eager for an outlet to celebrate the life of the 408th player to wear the baggy green, the late Phillip Hughes.
PHILLIP HUGHES – CAREER OVERVIEW