Remembering Hughes

The mood at the Adelaide Oval is grim. The Australian team members, wearing black armbands, have Phillip Hughes’ baggy green cap number 408 inscribed on their shirts. Former Australian captain Richie Benaud reads his tribute to Hughes on the giant screen. There are several with moist eyes, including Australian captain Michael Clarke. By S. Dinakar.

Adelaide may not be the biggest city in Australia, but it is a charming one. The Christmas spirit grips the capital of South Australia, and the streets are all lit up. People are in a festive mood and have already begun their shopping. The Rundell Mall in Adelaide’s Central Business District is a blaze of colour. It is also crowded. The sounds of guitar and drums fill the air, as musicians showcase their skills on the sidewalks.

The city has a character of its own: although urban, there is a distinct country feel to Adelaide. Some call it Australia’s biggest ‘country town’. Surrounding the city are some of Australia’s finest vineyards.

Trams snake through the heart of Adelaide and the taxis are busy as the year gradually draws to a close. The bistros are full.

Adelaide was the home of cricket’s greatest batsman, Sir Donald Bradman. A street named after the legend welcomes you. Adelaide is also the place where the famous Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, began their cricket.

The mood at the Adelaide Oval is grim though. The India-Australia series, postponed after the tragic death of Phillip Hughes, is scheduled to start on December 9. The Australian team, recovering from the trauma of losing a beloved mate, is at the ground training. Life goes on...

The Adelaide Oval itself looks very different. Gone are the bright canopies beyond the boundary that, perhaps, symbolised the spirit of the place. The stadium has been modernised and huge stands have come up. The idea is to get more spectators in and provide a lot more facilities. Yet, all this has come at a cost. The Adelaide Oval appears to have lost its sense of identity.

Mercifully, amidst all this construction, the little hill still stands. Some solace for traditionalists.

The presspersons have little to complain about, though. The media centre is much larger, and the wireless connectivity is hassle-free.

The beginning of the first Test is both a sombre occasion and a moment to celebrate. The Australian team members, wearing black armbands, have Phillip Hughes’ baggy green cap number 408 inscribed on their shirts. Former Australian captain Richie Benaud reads his tribute to Hughes on the giant screen.

There are several with moist eyes, including Australian captain Michael Clarke. A slideshow of Hughes’ life and times is on and the Australian National Anthem is played. An extraordinary homage for 63 — the score at which Hughes suffered that fatal blow — seconds is paid to Hughes.

Hughes stays in the consciousness of the crowd and the Australian cricketers throughout the Test. When David Warner’s individual score reaches 63, he goes into a little trance even as the crowd applauds. The spectators cheer as the Australian total reaches 408 in the first innings. This was a wonderful way to remember and pay respect to Hughes.

During the match, one catches up with old friend Rahul Dravid. The erudite cricketer still looks fit enough to bat, but he says those days are behind him. Greatness sits lightly on Dravid. As in his playing days, he carries himself with dignity. He exudes genuine warmth. Harsha Bhogle is around too, and his popularity in Australia is enormous. The Hyderabadi juggles his time between television and radio commentary in an unruffled manner. Bhogle’s radio commentary has endeared him to millions of Aussies. Radio is still an extremely popular medium for following the game down under.

After the first day’s play concludes, there are shouts of ‘Bhogle, Bhogle,’ from a section of the Indian supporters. This is his sixth trip to Australia and Bhogle cannot stop loving the country and its people. “They are honest and upfront. I get along extremely well with them,” he says.

Bhogle is a rather busy man in these parts after the day’s play too — he is regularly invited for speeches and felicitations.

The Test does not lack in drama or passion as it unfolds. Tales of courage abound with Clarke shining the brightest.

There is also an interesting incident during a post-day media conference when Ajinkya Rahane, who is not very articulate in English, ends up saying what he did not actually mean to say. When queried repeatedly about the ill-tempered incidents involving Warner, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Steve Smith, Rahane replies, “It is good for the game.” Later the clarification from the mild-mannered Indian about what he actually meant arrives: “It’s part and parcel of cricket and not good for the game.”

As the Test hurtles towards a sensational finish on day five with India in a dominant position, former Australian cricketer Tom Moody says, “Don’t think India would win. It’s a question of one wicket.” Well, his confidence is justified. It’s that indomitable Aussie spirit again.