The reaction to the death of Phillip Hughes this week has been nothing short of overwhelming. Hughes died tragically after being hit on the head by a bouncer playing in an Australian provincial cricket game. He lost conciousness less than 10 seconds after being hit, and never regained it. His death was announced two days later. Here is the report in Australian media showing on-field events.
Tributes to Hughes’ family and team mates have poured in from all over the world. His death has touched me and my cricket-loving friends too. Even though we are all amateur cricket players, playing at school and university and perhaps the odd club game afterwards, we share in the camaraderie of the game. As batsmen, we have had to face fast bowling too, and shared the fear and doubt of playing the short ball. There is always the risk of misjudging a pull shot or the bad luck of an uneven pitch. Hughes’ freak accident, and it is nothing more than that, has put all these doubts in perspective.
How cricket is played will not change much because of this event. Bowlers will – and should – continue to bowl bouncers. If anything, I suspect more batsmen worldwide will 1) understand the importance of wearing a helmet, and 2) be more circumspect in their approach to playing the bouncer. (This includes kids: I still have the scars of a bouncer that hit my mouth in grade 11. Only then did I realise that a helmet was essential.) But I suspect the psychological and emotional scars will run much deeper. Hughes was the smile, the friendly face of the Australian team. Not only that, but he was the nexus of an Australian team that was often divided. Here are the opening lines of the obituary on Cricinfo:
Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting. David Warner and Shane Watson. Simon Katich and Justin Langer. Brad Haddin and Matthew Wade. Darren Lehmann and Brett Lee.
These strong men of Australian cricket have often had very little in common. Their competitiveness, pride and differences of opinion have caused plenty of arguments and disagreements. Apart from the baggy-green cap, there was often only one thing that they all agreed on: Phillip Hughes.
His death will make all these squabbles seem petty. The impact on the Australian team can already be seen in this touching press-conference by Australian captain Michael Clarke earlier today. Spare a moment for Sean Abbott, too, the bowler who had probably bowled hundreds of bouncers like that in his career. He will find it hard to return to the playing field.
It is often after tragic events that we re-evaluate what we do and why we do it. The next time I walk in to bat, I will do so with a smile on my face.