Vale Phillip Hughes

Someone dies every minute of every day somewhere in the world. Most are anonymous. They are mourned by their family and friends and seen off from this world. For those it’s very personal and very real, but it’s also very intimate. There are only very few, by virtue of how they died, or their public profile, whose death becomes an event of public significance.

This week one such death occurred. On Wednesday Phillip Hughes was at the batting crease playing cricket when he was struck by a bouncer. He was taken from the ground in a  critical condition, operated on, and placed in an induced coma. I remember when I heard the news I was chatting with a friend overseas. I interrupted the conversation to relay the news. I had a very bad feeling about it.

Yesterday his family elected to turn off life  support. Hughes never regained consciousness.

Hughes was not just another cricketer. He’s one of the few cricketers to have played for Australia. He’s scored test centuries. At his best he was a dynamic and irresistible batsman, and there’s every chance he would have been selected for the test match against India next week. It’s certain, but for this calamity, that he would have donned the baggy green once more. On Sunday he would have turned 26.

Something like this leaves an emotional bruise upon society. It’s an absolute shock to the system – a man doing what he loved doing, what he does best and what thousands do every weekend without consequence, was struck down by what must be seen as  a freak accident.

As a former test player Hughes had a profile that extended far beyond these shores. In the aftermath of the accident twitter and other media were awash with commentary and best wishes, including from the international cricketing community – the men he played against. When news of his death was made known yesterday that was repeated once more, and deep mourning ensued.

As it happens Hughes seemingly was more than just a good cricketer. By all reports he was a great bloke, and loved by team-mates and opponents all over the world.

For those of us not part of the cricketing fraternity I think the shock was just as profound. An event like this exposes personal grief to public viewing. Though it is personal, I think the exposure of that grief is in many ways beneficial to those who witness it – which is all of now. The death of anyone is wrenching to those who love them, but in almost 100% of cases it happens behind closed doors. It’s very real, but it’s contained.

A death like this lifts the lid on grief. As observers we see and are affected by it – his team mates in tears, the man who bowled the ball in shock, a grieving family. We share in it in some way, and in a way are made to remember and feel and appreciate the weight of a human life we overlook otherwise. It’s a serious, terrible business, but also a cathartic event shared by all who knew him, all those who followed cricket, all those in the broader human community.

It’s strange how things like this bring out the best in people. All posturing and pretence is dropped. I’ve been massively moved by the reaction, grace and kindness of people all over the world. So often I feel cynical, but in the last few days much of that has been erased.

There are some beautiful tributes. The one I love best is the #putoutyourbats
tribute – people from far and wide putting their cricket bat out (I have one at home, a Grey Nick), resting it against a gate, a tree, a set of stumps, and posting a photo of it. Another, the head of the ACB has suggested that the mandatory retirement total of 50 runs implemented in junior cricket leagues be increased to 63 this weekend – the amount of runs that Hughes had scored when he was struck.

There is uncertainty now as to whether the test match next week should go on. That’s perfectly understandable. Hughes has played with all the Australian players as recently as 6 weeks ago, and many are very good friends. Cricket becomes just a game, and a tough game if it must be played with a heavy heart.

I hope the game goes on. You know Hughes would have wanted that. I think it’s probably good therapy too. And I think it’s an opportunity to honour Hughes, and to make something good out of it. It can’t be just another game.

One last note about poor Sean Abbott, the man who bowled the ball  that struck Hughes. He did nothing wrong. It’s a delivery repeated hundreds of thousands of times in cricket matches all around the world every year mostly without incident. It was just bad luck for all concerned, the odds finally catching up with the game. Abbott won’t see it that way, and that’s understandable. He’ll be doing it tough the poor kid. He’s only young, a great future ahead of him, and only recently an Australian team-mate of Hughes. He needs support and love. Hang in there.

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