T20 dominates the modern cricketing landscape.
I got into cricket late, in my 20s. Phil Hughes is the first cricketer I followed from pre-Test career.
He’s the first guy who I followed and shared the elation of selection and success and disappointment of, what I always thought, was unfair treatment at the hands of selectors. Phil Hughes was a symbol of my love affair with the game, he’d come through it all with me.
Like most teenage boys, my bedroom wall growing up was covered with my sporting and musical heroes (and a few pin-ups). Symbols of things I wanted to be. Symbols of the man I would wanted to grow into. Symbols of the traits and beliefs that I thought were right. They were my guiding stars.
I’d just turned 13. I just started playing guitar. I’d just started racing go-karts. My walls were all Kurt Cobain and Ayrton Senna (and Kylie Minogue, but that’s a story for another day).
It was 1994. It wasn’t going to be a good year for me. Struggling my way through year 8, not fitting in at school, my heroes were the ones who I’d talk to at night. They were the ones I’d ask advice from.
In the first week of April news filtered through that Kurt Cobain had taken his own life. It was a shock, and I didn’t really understand it, it was the first time suicide would enter my life, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Understanding the tortured soul that lay within the man taught me about the importance of passion, and more importantly, how to channel your passion and the consequences of not being able to keep it in control. Half of my bedroom became a shrine to my dead hero.
The next few weeks I was more withdrawn, but nobody really noticed, I was a fairly distant kid at the best of times. I sat up late with my dad the night of May first to watch the San Marino GP.
Senna had moved to the best team, but had crashed out of the first two GP trying to catch a young upstart by the name of Michael Schumacher. That was OK, “all or nothing, that’s the way to live” I told myself, often quoting a line I’d heard Senna say “if you see a gap, you have to go for it”.
Needless to say, I often crashed out on the first corner of go-kart races. Then it happened. I saw him lifted out of the car and taken away in the ambulance. I went to bed, there was nothing left to watch.
In the morning I woke to my dad saying “Senna’s died”. “I know” was my reply. I don’t know how I did, but I did.
I didn’t speak again for a week. I didn’t have much experience with death; I was too young to remember the grandparents who had passed, and I still lived with my dog and my horse, my childhood pets.
I learnt a lot about grieving and mourning in the weeks and months ahead. The other half of my room became a shrine to my other dead hero, only the single Kylie picture left in the room to break the macabre decoration.
“If you see a gap, you have to go for it”. You have to take opportunities when they come up, even if there’s a really good chance you’ll spend the rest of the race sitting on the sidelines.
My 17-year-old step-son asked me for some career advice the other day, being a bit lost as young people tend to do as they head towards the end of schooling. “Follow your passions, and take every opportunity” is what I told him.
The life lesson I was passing on to the boy I’m responsible for turning into a man came to me from the men who I looked to when I was a lad.
This is why sport matters. This is why heroes matter. It’s not what they do on the field that is important, it’s how they live their lives.
As we become adults and more sure of being in control of our lives we tend to forget how important those posters on our bedroom walls were. But they are symbols, and symbols are important.
Vale Phil Hughes. Your dedication and humility were things that I tried to emulate, even as a man older than you will ever be. Thank you for being a symbol for me.