Phil Hughes was not Australia’s greatest cricketer; he was not a great technician, nor a fearsome striker. Rather, he possessed a homespun style and a fearsome desire to succeed. When on November 25 2014 he was struck in the head by a cricket ball, I – like many others – simply assumed he’d get back up. Phil Hughes had always got back up. He’d made a career out of it: in his five years around the Australian team he had been dropped four times. When a cricketer is dropped they often never play again. Some blame the selectors; others, the coach or the conditions. Hughes blamed nobody. He just went back to his state side and scored hundred after hundred. He was the player whose name would never disappear. Before the accident, he was expected to be reinstated in the team for the fifth time.
News of Phil Hughes’ death from the accident reverberated around the world. One of the world’s most famous sportspeople, Sachin Tendulkar, tweeted his support; a bloke with 14 Twitter followers started a social media phenomenon with the hashtag #putoutyourbats. A test match between New Zealand and Pakistan was suspended for a day, and when it did resume proceeded in a sombre mood. The players didn’t celebrate milestones, instead they dedicated them to Phil’s memory. Elton John dedicated a song to him, and children on the streets of Karachi, Mumbai, Colombo and Dhaka briefly stopped the thousands of games of cricket that happen daily worldwide in a moment of prayer for the deceased cricketer. Phil couldn’t get back up, and I still can’t stop crying. I never rated him as a player; I used to joke about how he would always be 12th man, running drinks and messages out to players in the middle. It was poignantly appropriate when Cricket Australia posthumously named him 13th man for the four summer test matches. So often Hughes had been 13th man, but he’d always been able to get up. Except this time.
The intensity of feeling surrounding Hughes’ death demonstrates how deeply embedded cricket is within the collective Australian psyche. Unlike in some other countries, Australia cricketers are not revered as unearthly celebrities; rather they are looked upon as the chosen few lucky enough to live out a common dream. Every bloke down the pub reckons that he’d be able to step up to the plate if the team needed him, everybody thinks he’s qualified to give the team advice. A consequence of such an attitude is that when one of the team dies, it feels as if a family member has passed. Whilst I may forget Hughes’s innings, or many of the matches he played, I will never forget the way he constantly sought to better himself, and his never say die attitude.
RIP Phil – the point fielder in heaven is nervous.