Everyone who loves cricket will have their favourite players. These are the ones who really make you sit up and pay attention when they come in to bat or come on to bowl. They have something intangible that you simply enjoy watching.
Phillip Hughes’ tragic and untimely death plunged the entire cricketing world into grief over the past few days, a period which was possibly the most emotionally draining that the game has experienced.
At the same time, the spirit of cricket was out on display like never before, as thousands of people connected to the game in some way or the other – known and unknown to Hughes – paid their tributes in a remarkable outpouring of empathy.
Up in his heavenly abode, Hughes must be surely feeling overwhelmed with all the love and respect showered on him.
As a steadily maturing batsman, Hughes still had a lot to offer to world cricket. Yet, in his short but promising career, he not only did he manage to churn out some memorable performances, but also went on to break a few records in the process.
Here are Hughes’ five most noteworthy performances across formats which gave the best indications of his unquestionable talent:
1) 116 for New South Wales v Victoria, Sydney, 2007-08
19 year-old Hughes first burst on to the Australian domestic scene in the 2007-08 Sheffield Shield. In his maiden first-class innings, he scored 51 against Tasmania. But he reserved his best for the final against Victoria, where he became the youngest batsman to score a century in the Sheffield Shield final.
After his team had gained a first-innings lead of 65, Hughes went on to put Victoria’s seasoned bowlers to the sword in the second innings.
He shared an opening stand of 75 with Phil Jaques followed by a 145-run alliance with Simon Katich for the second wicket before being dismissed for a quality knock of 116 from 175 balls with 16 fours and a six.
This innings took the game away from Victoria, who went down by 258 runs.
2) 115 and 160 for Australia v South Africa, Durban, 2008-09
At the age of 20, Hughes earned his baggy green for the first time on the 2008-09 tour of South Africa.
Opening the innings on his debut at Johannesburg, he fell for a duck in his first innings but crashed an entertaining 75 in the second dig. This was a sign of things to come in the second Test at Durban.
On the opening morning at Durban, Hughes launched a delightful attack on the fiery trio of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel, using the cut shot and the on drive with aplomb.
By lunch, he had raced to 75, and later went from 93 to 105 with successive sixes to become the fourth-youngest Australian to score a Test hundred. He shared a 184-run opening stand with Katich and ended up with 115 with 19 fours and two sixes, striking at more than 76.
Australia, with a lead of 214, nearly had the game and series sealed when they began their second innings, but Hughes was not done by any means.
This time his effort was more restrained, and he showed his adaptability and skill in building an innings with his second century in the match.
His solid 160 from 323 balls with 15 fours and three sixes – which remained his best Test score – enabled Australia to declare and give themselves ample time to achieve a series-clinching 175-run victory.
With this feat, Hughes became the youngest to score centuries in each innings of a Test, beating West Indian George Headley’s 1929-30 record by nearly six months.
3) 112 for Australia v Sri Lanka, Melbourne, 2012-13
Hughes finally made his long overdue ODI debut against Sri Lanka at the MCG in the first match of the series, and immediately proved his worth with a fine hundred.
He thus became the first Australian to score a century on ODI debut.
Opening the innings after Australia chose to bat, Hughes stayed in the middle for 39 overs, scoring 112 from 129 balls with 14 boundaries.
He shared a game-changing third-wicket partnership worth 140 runs with captain George Bailey (89) which helped Australia to a total of 305/5. Sri Lanka could muster only 198 in reply.
With Australia needing to win the last ODI at Hobart in order to square the series, Hughes rose to the challenge again by scoring 138 from 154 balls to guide the hosts to a narrow 32-run win. These two centuries were his only ones in ODIs.
4) 81* for Australia v England, Nottingham, 2013
Australia’s Test form was in disarray after a feeble display in India, and the public were expecting the worst in the Ashes in England.
In the first Test at Trent Bridge, the Australian bowlers did well to bowl out the hosts for 215, before their batting frustratingly unravelled.
Australia slumped to 53/4, at which stage Hughes arrived at the crease. With Steve Smith (53) for company, he attempted to steady the ship, but after the former’s dismissal, the innings imploded from 108-4 to 117-9.
Hughes was still there when last man Ashton Agar – on debut – joined him. What followed was quite unbelievable.
The duo went on to add a then record 163 runs for the final wicket, and it was only because of this partnership that Australia managed to narrow down the eventual margin of defeat to 14 runs.
Hughes held his ground at one end, while Agar thumped his way to record score of 98 before being dismissed. Hughes remained unbeaten on 81 from 131 balls with nine fours, missing out on a well deserved hundred.
In the second innings, Hughes was out for a duck. The following Test at Lord’s – in which he scored 1 run in each innings – was destined to be the last time he represented his country wearing the baggy green.
5) 202* for Australia A v South Africa A, Darwin, 2014
Hughes continued with his penchant of creating records when he became the first Australian to score a List A double-hundred, while playing for Australia A against South Africa A in a triangular series match at the Marrara Oval.
Batting first, Australia A slipped to 46/3, and that was as good as it got for the opposition.
Hughes, who opened the batting, smote and slashed his way to a monumental unbeaten 202, reaching his double-hundred with the last ball of the innings.
In all, he faced 151 balls and hit 18 fours and 6 sixes. He added 220 runs for the fourth wicket with Moises Henriques (90) as Australia A piled up 349/4, which was enough for a 148-run win.
Two weeks after this game, Australian captain Michael Clarke had said that he saw a bright future in Hughes, and thought of him as a ‘100-Test player’.
Phillip Hughes died playing the game he loved, the game which we all love and which is such an integral part of our lives. For this reason alone, he will never leave our memories and his spirit will forever remain in our collective consciousness.
I hope his final journey was a safe one, and I believe he must be filled with gratitude for the touching farewell that he was accorded.
May his soul rest in peace.