A year after Phil Hughes’s untimely death

It will be that time of the year, when the cricketing fraternity from all around the world will come together to remember one of their own, a fallen hero, whose untimely death left the world not only speechless, but united. Philip Joel Hughes succumbed to a head injury which he suffered while doing what he loved the most — batting.

Phil Hughes... ill-fated.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Till a year ago, the remote town of Macksville, New South Wales, was unknown to the world. It was the death of a banana farmer’s son, who was known for his batting, which put Macksville on the world map.

It will be that time of the year, when the cricketing fraternity from all around the world will come together to remember one of their own, a fallen hero, whose untimely death left the world not only speechless, but united. Philip Joel Hughes succumbed to a head injury which he suffered while doing what he loved the most — batting. Even a year after his death, Hughes remains a very integral part of the cricketing world, reminding us that life is precious and one should respect it till we can, because one never knows when it will be our last day.

A year after Hughes’s death, cricketers are still coming to terms as to whether they are playing the gentleman’s game in the spirit of the game.

Mitchell Johnson’s thoughts

Days after his retirement, Australian pacer Mitchell Johnson, Hughes’s former teammate, spoke about how the late cricketer’s death made him question the way he played cricket. It was one short ball, one of Hughes’s biggest weaknesses which often kept the late cricketer out of the national side, that took his life. Johnson said that he questioned whether aggressive cricket and bowling short balls were in the spirit of cricket.

Hughes’s death also affected the way New Zealand played cricket. New Zealand were playing the third Test against Pakistan when the Hughes tragedy struck. Players from both the sides were left shocked and they even thought of abandoning the match. However, the Black Caps came out wearing black bands and their whites had ‘P.H.’ written on them.

Brendon McCullum came out and scored a double century, but there were no celebrations. Not a single short ball was bowled by the New Zealand bowlers in the rest of the match.

Official biography

Australian cricket journalists Malcolm Knox and Peter Lalor have come out with the official biography of Hughes. In the book are quotes from Ashton Agar, whose 98 in the first Ashes 2013 Test will forever be remembered as a gritty innings by a tailender and a young debutant. However, what many don’t remember is the support provided by Hughes at the other end. Hughes was involved in a 163-run partnership with Agar for the 10th wicket. He was unbeaten on 81 and it was the highest partnership of the match.

Such small and minute stats often get neglected and why should anyone remember it? Australia lost the match and Hughes’s unbeaten 81 hardly helped the team.

Despite all, Agar remembers his mate. In Hughes’s biography, Agar opens up about the late cricketer’s contribution in his knock of 98. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes from the book that Agar mentions the partnership was “75 per cent him (Hughes) getting me through, 25 per cent me getting him through. He made me feel so relaxed. Even with a look from him I knew what he meant. He didn’t have to say anything.”

‘Next ball’

“I swear that each and every ball of that partnership he came up the pitch and said, 'Next ball'. He had such control, he was so strong mentally. His emotion never changed during that stand. The most he would say, when I played a good shot, was 'Good boy, good boy', and then, 'Next ball'. He stayed so even. The more I think about it, the more it amazes me. I was maybe a little disappointed, but the sincerity of his handshake is what I remember. It was a special bond, the greatest moment I have had and it was shared with him. It feels extra­special now,” Agar remembers.

It was not only Agar or Michael Clarke, for whom Hughes was like a younger brother, who were affected by the loss. Ed Cowan, with whom Hughes may have directly or indirectly fought for a place in the Australian side, remembers how the late cricketer was left angry after being dropped post Lord’s Test during Ashes 2013.

“It made me consistently angry on his behalf. He was livid after that Lord's Test when he was dropped. He was furious... They were talking about how there was no batting coming through, but we had a guy who could be the best batsman in the world and they kept doing him over.”

The little brother

He may not have gone on to become an Australian legend, but Hughes was more than a cricketer to many. It was just not the cheeky smile or the nonchalant simple nature of the country boy, Hughes was the little brother. His death reminded the cricketing world that one should be careful.

Hughes’s sister, Megan, reminds us why the cricketer was special to many. In an extract of his biography, Megan says, “You struggled to stay angry with him; he would always make you laugh and stop being angry. If he was irritating me, not making me angry, just playing with me, I would go, 'You're annoying me, Bro', and the next minute he would do something funny and it was totally gone. I could not stay angry, he had the most beautiful heart.”

When the Australians and the Kiwis take the ground for the third Test in Adelaide, cricketers will remember their fallen mate. Australia will be reminded once again about the loss of a dear one and despite all the accolades, this one loss will overshadow all the past glories.

Another death

Ironically, days before Hughes’s death anniversary, another cricketer lost his life at the age of 25. Namibia’s wicketkeeper-batsman Raymond van Schoor suffered a heart attack during his side’s five-wicket win over Free State in a CSA Provincial One-Day Challenge match. The cricketer remained hospitalised and was finally pronounced dead on Friday night.

Even years after his death, Hughes’s accident will remain as one of cricket’s worst moments — on and off the field. The pain will never lessen and cricketers, who were directly and indirectly affected, will continue to question — have I played the game in the right spirit?

But the spirit of Phil Joel Hughes, the son, friend, and little brother, will continue to follow Australian cricket.

>When Satan entered Eden! Read Suresh Menon's article published in Sportstar magazine dated December 13, 2014.