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.
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 (@BMcSport) November 27, 2014