27 November 2014

Farewell Hughesy (1988-2014: Baggy Green #408)

The darkest day in all my years watching cricket is the only way to describe the passing away of Phillip Joel Hughes. Despite the Baggy Green Blog coming to a close a few months back, this one is for Hughesy.

He passed away on 27 November 2014 at the age of 25.

There will be plenty of in-depth, moving articles written about the life and career of Phillip, so I will step away from any attempt at this. It's all too soon anyways and I just want something small as a tribute to his memory as a cricketer, how we knew him. I've had to really dig deep on this one.

He was a talented batsman and no doubt unique - thinking back to those twin centuries at Kingsmead is just magic, his savage cutting of the ball, his cheeky slog sweeps and heaves. He had so much more to offer. I have wonderful memories of his batting, which will live on forever. His family have so much more than that of the young man and I hope those loving memories carry them through this.

My love and best wishes of strength will forever be flowing for the entire Hughes family, and Michael Clarke - who offered nothing but incredible support to the family from the moment Hughesy was hospitalised. A leader of men, respect Clarkey.

Sadly I never had the chance to engage with Hughesy in conversational manner as I'd hoped to.

He represented Australia, Australia A, Australia Under-19s, East Torrens, Hampshire, Middlesex, Mumbai Indians, New South Wales, New South Wales Under-19s, South Australia, Western Suburbs, Worcestershire. I had the honor of seeing him play live wearing his Baggy Green 408 cap in South Africa, and then performing for South Australia at the Adelaide Oval in recent times.

It was a freak accident and despite Sean Abbott knowing this is not his fault, given he was just doing his job, as was Phillip, he will still have a heavy heart and not be able to grasp what has happened any time soon. The pain he feels is something I just hope love and support will ease over time. I hope he heals.

Amidst this dark day and period in cricket history, it's important to acknowledge short bowling has been a part of the great game we all love for a very, very long time. This must be understood and realised.

Body Line was one historical case, the almighty fast bowlers from the West Indies were another collective case, and then the brutal pace of Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar during the later stages of the 1990s really stressed fast bowling as a reality in the game. In the last year Mitchell Johnson has been the most devastating fast bowler to witness in action.

Batsmen get hit and have to combat this tactical execution from fast bowlers in the game. Recently Stuart Broad of England had a facial injury a few months back. I clearly remember watching Allan Donald of South Africa (one of the worlds fastest at the time) bowl a short ball during the 1996 World Cup which hit the UAE skipper at the time on the head, who was wearing nothing but a brimmed hat. He rubbed his head and carried on, grinning at his own daftness in not wearing a helmet against Donald.

This is the general result, and when wearing a helmet the biggest shock is usually the sound in your ears if the grill gets smashed. Death is never an immediate thought, although you know there is risk. Sport has high risk.

Fast bowling feeds down to state cricket, grade cricket, and school cricket. It's always been there and batsmen do get hit. Cricket is a dangerous sport. If you've played it, you know it. I've only played the game at school and club level and that was frightening enough at times. I stood behind Michael Clarke once when he was facing Mitchell Johnson in the nets. Fast, lightening fast! It requires intense skill to combat short pitched bowling and those instinctive reactions in split seconds do matter. You anticipate getting hit, bruised, but not a fatal hit. Never. This was an unimaginable accident.

This whole incident is just so damn devastating and depressing, and the medical nature of the injury resulted in something which is a rare condition to experience, with such a hit. The doctors at the medical press conference confirmed this rarity. Their insight was most appreciated on such a raw and fresh matter.

Looking back on my articles, there was always an underlying sense of desperation in my writing for Hughesy during his struggles with the bat in hand, wanting him to just rise above the challenges. When he was on fire and smashing any bowler to the boundary, stashing up runs, my joy and delight at his skills flourishing and helping Australia win matches was evident. He was a record-breaker when on song. It's a good feeling reading back on this, but sadness overwhelms that with the knowledge he will never play again. The best was around the corner.

We never anticipated this and to happen to such a young man is numbing on the emotions. I liken this to that of Steve Irwin. He moved many people and was an Australian man who passed away doing what he loved. Like Steve, embrace the positive memories of Phillip. Embrace his talent, and the joy he brought to the game and cricket supporters around the globe. He will be missed but never, ever forgotten. He will always be not out too!

Farewell Hughesy - cap 408 can be put to rest with a proud history created by a talented young man.

Ian Reid

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