Ireland’s Paul Stirling and captain Andy Balbirnie struck superb centuries as the tourists chased down a daunting target of 329 to stun world champions England with a seven-wicket win in the third and final ODI at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
Phillip Hughes was earmarked from a young age as Australia’s next champion batsman, tipped to follow in the steps of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke before him.
Hughes’ untimely and tragic death late last year robbed the world of a young man, by all accounts a ripping bloke and the sport of a potential superstar.
While cricket isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ of life, the mastery Hughes could’ve produced at international level hasn’t been lost, but is currently being shared with his close friend Steven Smith.
No one will ever forget the Australian vice-captain’s moving gesture to Hughes at the Adelaide Oval in December last year, as he saluted an emotional century by gesturing to the sky while standing on the area of the ground marked with Hughes’ playing number 408.
Before his death, Hughes looked the man most likely to lead Australia’s batting for the next decade, through the post Clarke, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin era.
While Smith would undoubtedly have been part of that future, it’s fair to say based on sheer talent, Hughes would’ve been the premier batsman in the side.
Although initially in his career Hughes had problems with the short ball and then outside his off stump, it was widely accepted he would ultimately prevail against those pitfalls and come through a gun of the game.
Unfortunately we will never know.
The man now leading Australia’s next generation of batsmen is Smith, who you can bet walks to the crease with the belief Hughes is looking over him every step of the way.
Since Hughes’ death Smith’s record has been unrivalled in world cricket.
The 26-year-old is averaging a startling 115.91 in that time and he has won three man-of-the-match and one man-of-the-series awards in eight matches.
Six hundreds and four fifties in 16 innings is extraordinary going, but consider also that Smith has made his three highest Test scores in this period as well: 192 versus India at the MCG, 199 versus West Indies at Sabina Park and 215 versus England at Lord’s.
It’s a shame we’ll never get to see Hughes and Smith in tandem at the wicket destroying opposition attacks, but you can bet the former isn’t far from the latter’s thoughts each time he takes guard.