Friday, 13 February 2015

Column 1, 2015 – Phil Hughes

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 104, Friday February 13, 2015.
[Full text below]

The Cricket World Cup starts tomorrow, and cricket’s oldest foes meet in Melbourne. One name will not be on Australia’s team sheet, but will be on everyone’s mind.

It’s two and a half months since cricket changed more profoundly than any new rule, format or TV rights deal will ever change it.

A man was killed. He wasn’t a soldier or a test pilot, living with death every day. He wasn’t a racing driver or a mountain climber, who accept the possibility that one day their sport might exact the ultimate price. Phillip Hughes was a cricketer, killed playing cricket. People don’t die playing cricket.

Death is part of life, and youth cut down in its prime, its potential forever unfulfilled, is never less than tragic. But this one we felt particularly keenly. People don’t die playing cricket.

How decent a guy he was or how good a player he was should have no bearing on how we feel about a 25 year old killed at the crease. And yet it does. Hughes was an unorthodox swashbuckler of a batsman, and by all accounts attacked the rest of his life with similar zest.

The cricket world – fans, players, media, administrators – has never felt more united to me than it did that week. The game’s vibrant and highly engaged twitter community, whose default mode is sarcastic snark, perhaps epitomised the depth of feeling. #putoutyourbats was a poignant and understated expression of solidarity, mourning and respect from all corners of the globe. Google it if you didn’t see it. You won’t be sorry you did.

Twitter was not all that was elevated by the tragedy.

Australia’s captain Michael Clarke, besides being prodigiously gifted, has always come across as a bit brash, a bit pleased with himself. A modern celebrity, with all the trimmings – supermodel on his arm; supercar on his drive – a shallow, showy metrosexual.

I don’t recall ever having my impression of a public figure so quickly and comprehensively reversed.

From his statement on behalf of Hughes’ family at the hospital, to the Cricket Australia press conference, to publicly supporting Sean Abbott (who bowled the fatal bouncer) with the words “when you feel like getting back on the horse mate, I promise I will be the first to strap on the pads and go stand up the end of the net to hit them back at you,” to the heartbreaking eulogy at the funeral, he was a model of articulate dignity. He did his country, his sport, and his best mate proud.

If Hughes has a legacy, I hope it’s that. Cricket rallied because of his death. It gained perspective. It remembered that it’s just a game, and yet the game is what’s important. Clarke concluded his eulogy: “We must cherish it. We must learn from it... And we must play on.” If we’re lucky, perhaps the game will manage to retain that sentiment in Hughes’ memory. For while it has indeed played on, cricket will never forget Phillip Hughes.

- ends 499 words -

No comments:

Post a Comment