People just aren’t supposed to die playing cricket

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert


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    The news of Phillip Hughes’ passing has rocked me like few other sporting tragedies in my lifetime. Like many current and former batsmen of any level over the past few days, I suspect, I’ve been reliving more than a few deliveries that came my way over my time in the game.

    One of the wonderful things about cricket is that the game remains the same throughout the levels. The speed and the ability might increase as you go up the grades, but the experience of facing and dealing with short-pitched bowling is exactly the same: see it, get into position, play the shot, or leave it alone.

    »Phil Hughes’ career in pictures
    »STORY: Phil Hughes passes away

    In truth, I rarely had to worry about many getting up above my shoulders in the middle grades I played. And that meant that except for very rare occasions, I batted without a helmet in games.

    And this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few days. I never, ever felt in danger, but I suddenly feel very, very lucky.

    People aren’t supposed to die playing cricket.

    Batsmen and batswomen get hit, sure, but swelling and bruising subsides. The odd broken bone heals.

    Bowlers use the short ball as part of their armoury; the same reason they use the yorker, or the off-cutter, or the inswinger. The intent is always to take a wicket, never to harm.

    Even when we’d yell out or indicate from the slips cordon to ‘badge him’, we never wanted the badge to actually be struck.

    Sean Abbott bowled a lot to Phillip Hughes on Tuesday at the SCG; more to Hughes than any other South Australian batsman, in fact. Not surprisingly, given Hughes was going along pretty well, Abbott was probably tiring of the tap his former NSW and now Australian teammate was giving him.

    Hughes had hit three of his nine boundaries on Tuesday off Abbott, and had scored 22 runs from the 36 balls off the young allrounder had bowled to him.

    Brought back on for a new spell the over immediately before the accident, Abbott bowled two short balls that Hughes left well alone. The Cricket Australia live feed – which I was following at the time – described both balls almost nonchalantly:

    “No run, another short one, ducks, he’s in no hurry” and “No run, low bouncer, still ducks”.

    Hughes took two runs off the second ball of Abbott’s next over, fine down the leg side. Just another game of cricket at this stage.

    The next ball was short, and Hughes, having left two shorter balls alone the previous over, decided to have a crack this time. He saw it early; maybe too early, and he was through his shot when the ball struck him behind the left ear over the vertebral artery, one of the main arteries leading to the brain.

    We all know what happened next, but even three days later, it’s still hard to believe the outcome.

    Because people aren’t supposed to die playing cricket.

    And that’s what has made the outpouring of emotions and messages over the past few days, but especially yesterday, so raw.

    Every word spoken, written, texted, and tweeted is genuine. People genuinely want to send their love and support to the Hughes family, his teammates and opponents, and the game in general. That those messages have come from all around the world, from fans, from players of all levels current and former, local and overseas, just tells you how wide the cricket family really is.

    Likewise, the cricket family sends its love and support to Sean Abbott. No-one can imagine what he is going through, but there should be no doubt that he’s firmly in the thoughts of everyone.

    Furthermore, there’s nothing at all wrong with expressing this support, just as there was nothing wrong with the wave of public support that flooded the way of Melbourne Storm player Jordan McLean, who made the tragic tackle on Newcastle player Alex McKinnon.

    Though the news is still sinking in, and as cricket gathers itself in this time of genuine heartbreak, the realisation will be there in the coming days that playing again is the best way to commence the healing process.

    No-one would begrudge any individual from not taking part if they’re not ready, but it is important that the game goes on.

    Hughes died doing what he loved; and the game he loved can help itself by continuing in his honour.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • November 28th 2014 @ 7:40am
      BennO said | November 28th 2014 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      Still can’t believe this has happened.

      Very well written, sensitive words, Brett. Thanks.

      • Roar Rookie

        November 28th 2014 @ 10:51am
        Ross Fleming said | November 28th 2014 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        I couldn’t sleep last night, i feel so bad for his family in particular his parents

    • Columnist

      November 28th 2014 @ 7:47am
      Geoff Parkes said | November 28th 2014 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Hi mate, it all feels very weird today but this piece captures my mood at least, really well. Thanks.

      • Roar Rookie

        November 28th 2014 @ 2:52pm
        Khan said | November 28th 2014 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

        Truly sad day for cricket, he will be missed and our prayers are with his family

    • Editor

      November 28th 2014 @ 8:33am
      Patrick Effeney said | November 28th 2014 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Hi Brett, this article is necessary reading. Points to Hughes’ ability and the tragically contingent nature of the incident. Being a short ball-happy medium pace bowler myself, I can’t tell how this is going to effect the way the game is played. Maybe not at all. Maybe some.

      You come in for a new spell, and your captain says he might be vulnerable to the short ball. He might be, so you dig a few in to find out. They all sail by, and you feel like maybe the game has changed, not physically, but mentally. Because fear is a part of batting. But this is not supposed to be the result.

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2014 @ 8:47am
        Will Sinclair said | November 28th 2014 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Without wanting to, in any way, play down the tragedy of Phil Hughes’ death, I sincerely hope it doesn’t change the game we love (and that he loved).

        We have to remember that this was an extraordinarily unlikely accident. Literally, the first of its kind recorded in the history of cricket.

        Given how many games are played and how many balls are delivered in the game, it must make it a one in several billion chance. And that’s just at the top level.

        But, having said all that, I genuinely don’t know who will be the first player to deliver a searing bouncer in the First Test or, indeed, in club cricket. So it’s hard to imagine things won’t change… at least for a while.

        • Editor

          November 28th 2014 @ 11:05am
          Patrick Effeney said | November 28th 2014 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          Yep, and you’re not playing down the tragedy. Short pitched bowling should and will remain part of the game.

          People won’t revel in it for a while, but I can’t imagine the fabric will change too much.

          • November 28th 2014 @ 5:03pm
            Bill said | November 28th 2014 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

            I hope you keep the beard Pat.

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2014 @ 9:26am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 28th 2014 @ 9:26am | ! Report

        I can imagine there will be less talk revelling in making batsmen look uncomfortable with short stuff and taking joy in striking them on the body, and I can imagine that the short ball attack to tail-enders, which never used to happen, but does these days partially based on the thought that with helmets and things they are protected, so they shouldn’t get seriously hurt, may possibly change a bit. While this was a freak incident with an opening batsman, not a tail-ender, the fact that it’s shown the most tragic results can happen from getting hit by a bouncer even when wearing a helmet may reduce how much that sort of bowling is done against those less capable of repelling it and more likely to get hit and therefore be in danger.

        I do certainly wonder about the first test assuming it goes ahead. You’d have expected Johnson and Co. to hit the Indians with a barage of fast, short bowling, and the commentators taking great glee in the Indian batsmen looking uncomfortable against it. It’s hard to see that sort of thing happening in the same way.

        • November 28th 2014 @ 10:41am
          Brian said | November 28th 2014 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          Brett well done on a wonderfully written article.

          The only time I remember cringing previously was Lee bowling to Nantie Hayward back around 2002. It was clear the South African had no idea how to handle the attack. When Johnson does start the scary stuff it will be a shame but I for one will be struggling to smile. I’m sure in time that will pass. Where Cricket probably needs to be careful is in the lower grades. The sledge of hurt him will have that little bit more meaning.

    • Roar Guru

      November 28th 2014 @ 8:58am
      Will Sinclair said | November 28th 2014 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Lovely piece, Brett.

      Like you, I’m absolutely stunned by this tragedy. It’s difficult to comprehend.

    • November 28th 2014 @ 9:02am
      messa said | November 28th 2014 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Great article Brett.

      Thankyou for writing it.

      I know I too thought about a couple of knocks to the head I received from my rather mediocre career, a couple of real bad ones when I played a bit of Middlesex Premier league in London, where there wera few genuine quicks about, but the thought never occurred to me that my life could’ve been in danger.

      And I never really saw anyone get really badly hurt thankfully.

      So the fact that this young man has actually died has been one of the biggest shocks I’ve ever had.

      I love the game but sadly this tragedy has really affected me and i feel flat… can’t even think about watching game let alone be somepne to play in it and so I hope they cancel the 1st test.

      I might add a few of my former team-mates texted me last nght about a world phenomenon of putting bats out for Phil or some such… So my son and I have put our bats, hat and gloves out on our front door step for Phil this morning and I encourage others to do so as a mark of respect for this remarkable young man and cricketer.

      It is a credit to Phil Hughes that people all around the world are affected by his passing, particularly on the UK… if you go onto the BBC for instance there really has been an out pouring of emotion there also.

      sad sad news! RIP Phil

    • November 28th 2014 @ 9:27am
      Worlds Biggest said | November 28th 2014 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Nice piece Macca, this is all very hard to comprehend. I just saw images of his family on the TV and it is so gutwrenching. Thoughts with Sean Abbott too, the guy must be absolutely in bits.