He was 25 – a boy, and not completely a man yet. A boy doing what he loved, getting paid for it, and facing emotional ups and downs even the toughest of men would struggle with.
The game of cricket may not have defined him yet, but to those who didn’t know him personally, he was Phil Hughes—almighty Aussie batting talent and, more importantly, a fighter. A short left-handed batsman, diamond studded ear, serious gait, an ungainly shuffle across the crease, but a heart ready to withstand everything.
How else can you explain his calm manner during interviews, in the midst of the doomed 2013 India tour, when he had scores 25 runs in his first 5 innings on Indian pitches?
He became a man here, perhaps destined to struggle with his own talent, but a man who learned very quickly in life that failure is the reason success exists.
He wasn’t just a cricketer though, he was a competitor and a man who was much loved by his colleagues, as a human and mate.
And while most of us love watching the likes of Johnson and Steyn terrorize batsman with ‘sweet-chin music’, the loss of a life to it will probably change our view towards the game forever. We take those helmets for granted, only because the batsman of yesteryear didn’t have the luxury at all.
It is therefore horrid that, out of everyone, his mother and sister had to witness the tragic scenes that unfolded in the Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia.
It was to be young Hughesy’s comeback, one of many he has had to engineer, to play the very team that may have prematurely ended his career last year in the subcontinent. He was a prime contender for Clarke’s spot, and was on 63, well on his way to clinching yet another opportunity—a shot at redemption at the highest level. India awaited him at Brisbane, and after his moderate success in limited overs cricket, he remained Australia’s best test-replacement hope in the top order. In his 25 tests, he had scored 3 test centuries—2 in the same match, and just 1 in his next 23 tests. He hadn’t played a test in 16 months since July 2013.
Surely, this was to be the beginning of his defining innings, his second phase—where he would come to define cricket, and not the other way around.
We will never know. Only a few weeks after Frenchman Jules Bianchi’s near-fatal F1 crash at Japan, world sport has been given a telling blow in an era where safety is invariably a default setting.
It will be difficult to play cricket today. Or any day after today.
A life has been lost. Today, cricket is not a sport; it’s just another man-made mistake. Spare a thought for young Sean Abbot, the unfortunate bowler at the other end. CA’s valiant decision to close ranks around him and provide him with all the necessary counseling might eventually join his pieces together, but for now, he needs a hug from his mates: A long, tight hug, because you know for a fact that he can’t help but replay the scene of Hughes’ head in his hands as he called for medical attention. Neither can we.
Cricket will take a break for a day, or even two. But when the show does go on, it will be infinitely poorer.