Never has a squash ball drawn so much attention in the cricket world. And never has a World Cup final ended in such farcical circumstances. But neither of those took any of the gloss off one of Adam Gilchrist’s finest innings.
They were born almost 60 years apart, yet died within months of each other, both at the hands of the game they loved: one felled by a ball, the other by the long-term effects of not wearing a hat.
Through that game they are both forever linked to the number 63, one by virtue of his score in that final, fatal innings, the other for the number of Tests he played.
Their deaths, bookends of the Australian cricket season, have reverberated globally, one for a life and career curtailed, the other for the heights reached on and off the field. The Cricket Association of Nepal held a 63-second silence for both of them over the weekend.
When the younger of the two died, well before his time, the elder paid tribute, perhaps knowing that he himself was not long for this world. He was typically succinct: 28 words were all he needed.
“A boy, just beginning,” he said in that voice you’d know anywhere. “25 years of age, baggy green number 408. His father’s best mate, son, brother, fighter, friend, inspiration. Phillip Hughes, forever rest in peace, son.”
These were some of Richie Benaud’s final public words.
When people of character and calibre pass, it’s an occasion to mourn and commemorate, certainly, but it’s also a call to action, to find and be our better selves.
Eulogising Hughes in November, Michael Clarke said: “Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love. We must listen to it, we must cherish it, we must learn from it, we must dig in.”
The Australian XI played like men possessed this summer, grabbing every trophy on offer in honour of their fallen brother, their black armbands and glances to the heavens a constant reminder of what has driven them.
It’s a remarkable achievement in itself, to fashion success from such a wrenching loss. They did indeed dig in.
But for those hoping the tragic events at the SCG might translate into a kinder, gentler Australian outfit – and I confess, I was one – there has been disappointment.
It was instead the Black Caps who set the standard for on-field decency this summer, much to Brad Haddin’s chagrin, who upped his sledging quota in the World Cup final to punish the Kiwis for their kindness.
“They were that nice to us in New Zealand and we were that uncomfortable,” he lamented. “I said, ‘I’m not playing cricket like this’.”
Fine keeper though he is, he lost me that day.
So too in the commentary box which, in Richie’s absence over recent summers, has descended into cricket’s version of The Footy Show. You can almost smell the dirty socks, pizza crusts and stale farts. I’m sure they’ve got a beer snake going in there.
Such was Richie’s passion for the game, he milked two careers from it over more than 60 years.
It gives some comfort to think they are up there together, looking down, savouring each ball bowled and each despatched, discussing the finer points of play until Hughesy’s cows come home.
“Where else would you rather be, boys,” Hughesy used to say, “but playing cricket for your country?”
But it is up to those mortals remaining, those who play the game, administer and watch it, to shape it and turn it into what it will be. We are the custodians.
So what do we want from this great game? Do we want it to be a forum where talent and application speaks for itself or a playground for workplace bullies? And from those who analyse the game for us from the best seats in the house, do we agree to be spoken to like mugs or do we demand a meatier discourse?
How do we build on the legacy of these two men?