Phillip Hughes was well set and eyeing a comeback in the Australian line-up for the first Test against India that starts next week. His best mate, Michael Clarke, had vacated a spot in the middle-order and after reaching 63 against his former team New South Wales (NSW), the South Australia (SA) batsman had his mind affixed on adorning the Baggy Green once again. Sean Abbott, the fast-bowling rookie who had made an impression in his debut outing for the national team against Pakistan in the UAE last month, was giving it his all — bowling as fast as he could — since NSW had to get rid of Hughes in order to make inroads into the SA batting line-up. Abbott had delivered nine futile overs so far. In his tenth over, he ran in hard again, with Hughes on strike. On the third ball, he bowled a bouncer at Hughes, Abbott’s aim being to making the left-hander fend off the rising ball to one of the close-in fielders. The ball was perfectly legitimate, an option that millions of bowlers have used in more than 150 years of cricketing history.
But Hughes didn’t fend at it; Hughes didn’t smack it either. His timing went awry and the bat missed the ball altogether. In a blur, one of Abbott’s mates and a thoroughly likeable bloke had fallen face-first on the pitch. The ball hit Hughes under his left ear, an area his Masuri helmet didn’t cover. According to the helmet manufacturer, the 25-year-old (he would have turned 26 on November 30) was using an old model — the latest edition offers protection in exactly the area he was hit. The doctors have termed the injury “freakish” and according to reports, it is “the kind that is rarely seen in any sphere of life and has only once before been recorded as the result of being struck by a cricket ball”. When Hughes was hit on the neck, one of the main arteries to his brain was compressed. Such trauma can often be immediately fatal, but Hughes, the resilient batsman, fought on for over two days.
The incident has left the cricket world numb, Hughes’ death shaking fellow and rival cricketers to the core. No one cares even a tad bit anymore about the Pakistan-New Zealand Test and there have been calls for the cancellation of the Australia-India Test, a match in which Hughes was aiming to don the Baggy Green even as he was squaring-up to play his last hook shot.
A pall of gloom has descended everywhere; a sporting prodigy’s harrowing death on the pitch has given much-needed perspective to a sport where growing demands and ‘professionalism’ was taking a heavy toll on the players. The Australians, known as ruthless cricketers — ready to raze the opposition to dust — are for now heartbroken and shattered.
Abbott is crestfallen and surely needs comforting and help of his friends and family. Clarke, who on the pitch recently threatened to break the arm of an opponent, is overwhelmed with grief; Hughes was surely nothing, but a younger brother to Clarke. The Aussies can be brutal individuals on the field, not willing to give an inch to the opposition, but after the Hughes tragedy, they have broken down.
It might be a few years yet before we hear chants similar to “Lillee-Lillee-Killl-Kill-Kill” on an Australian cricket ground again.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2014.