It’s been a tough week here in Australia and around the cricketing world. We lost someone special this week and we are sad. Normally I talk about romance and romance books on this blog but I wanted to share my thoughts and try and explain maybe why the events of this week have had such a broad effect on us.
Unlike Aussie Rules football (AFL), rugby (union or league) or even soccer, cricket is our national sport. It’s played all over Australia – all year round indoors and outdoors all summer long. Our cricketers play all year round all over the world these days. I think every Australian kid has played cricket at some point. Even me. We don’t have many (any?) indigenous cricketers in the state or national teams and that’s a problem (one for another day) but in many ways, cricket identifies us. On Boxing Day, the Melbourne Test match starts and TVs and radios around the nation are on all day and one of the most common phrases you’ll hear will be “What’s the score?”. We are largely a secular nation and in some respects, cricket is our religion. It connects us in ways that politics and religion does not. Even Australia Day is heavily associated with cricket. Cricket is certainly a place we draw icons and heroes from. Sir Donald Bradman, the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lilllee, Jeff Thomson, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne – these are all cricketers revered by the Australian public in one way or another. They’re ours and they mean something to us. When they do surveys about who Australians trust the most, cricketers almost always top the list. We value our sportsmen more than our statesmen (that says something not very complimentary about our statesmen and women, but that’s for another day too and probably not this blog). In many respects, our cricketers are as revered as the royal family is in the UK. The Captain of the Australian Cricket Team is colloquially said to have “the second most important job in the nation”.
Philip Hughes was from New South Wales but he played state cricket for our own South Australia Redbacks for the past two years and that means he was ours too. Everyone’s a bit parochial about cricket. If a player was born in South Australia or played here briefly or possibly just holidayed here, we are inclined to include him as “ours”. The same holds true in all the other states as well; it’s not just South Australia. Philip Hughes was “ours” because he had played for Australia. He was “ours” because he played for South Australia and he was “ours” because he played for New South Wales.
On Tuesday, the Redbacks were playing the NSW Blues in a Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The Sheffield Shield is a series of 4-day cricket matches (similar to test matches but not quite because tests go for 5 days and are international matches) between the state teams. There’s a test match between Australia and India due to start next week (which may or may not go ahead now) and our captain, Michael Clarke, has a hamstring injury and is unavailable for selection. Philip Hughes was the front runner for Clarke’s test spot. For an Aussie cricketer, getting into the Australian test side is a Very Big Deal. Philip Hughes played for Australia before but hadn’t yet cemented his place in the side as a permanent fixture. I think everybody agrees it was only a matter of time.
Before he played for the Redbacks, he played for the Blues and over the course of playing cricket in all its various forms, he’d played with most of the guys on the field on Tuesday. They were his friends as well as his team mates and former team mates. From all accounts, Philip was the kind of guy everyone loved; friendly and funny and passionate about his cricket. One of his mates, Sean Abbott, bowled a bouncer (a short pitched delivery that bounces up around head height). It was a fairly innocuous bouncer, not delivered with malice or ill intent. It’s part of the game and it’s about competition and psych. It was no-one’s fault that this ball which was probably travelling at about 85mph at the time it hit, hit Philip Hughes on the side of the neck, causing a catastrophic injury to his carotid artery resulting in a brain haemorrhage. He collapsed on the field and Sean Abbott, his friend, was one of the first people to come to his aid. He never regained consciousness. There were doctors on the field in no time and Philip was resuscitated and intubated before he was taken by ambulance to Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital where emergency surgery was undertaken to relieve pressure on his brain. His condition did not improve and yesterday, Thursday, Philip Hughes died. The doctors are saying that the event was so rare – only about 100 cases have ever been recorded of this particular kind of injury and it is “nonsurvivable”.
He was 25 years old and just about to be recalled to the Australian test side. He would have turned 26 this Sunday.
I didn’t know Philip Hughes at all. I’d seen him play but I didn’t know him. I didn’t know him and I feel kind of devastated and if I feel this way, I can’t really imagine how bad his family and friends are feeling right now. And I can’t imagine how Sean Abbott is feeling right now. My heart goes out to Philip’s family and to Sean, who was his friend.
My husband played cricket when he was a teenager. He tells me he was hit in the head with a cricket ball many times and got nothing more than a bruise and a headache. They didn’t have helmets for kids back when he was playing. Philip Hughes was wearing a helmet but you can’t play cricket in a suit of armour and that particular spot on the side of his neck was not protected and that particular ball happened to hit just at that particular spot when he turned to attempt a pull shot. It was no-one’s fault. Philip Hughes would have faced thousands of bouncers in his career. Batsmen all around the world face them every day. Sometimes awful things happen for no discernable reason. Sometimes a life is cut tragically short and it’s no-one’s fault and there are no answers and it is completely out of our control and it is terrifying and devastating.
Yesterday, Paul Taylor, an IT guy from Sydney posted a picture on Facebook with the hashtag “put out your bats”. It’s gone all over Facebook and Twitter now. Cricket fans all around the world are honouring Philip Hughes and putting out their bats. I put out our bat this morning. It’s a little thing but it’s something and it feels right.
Vale Philip Hughes
It’s been a tough week this week. It’s hard to describe just how we’re feeling. Even people who don’t like cricket (heathens) are affected by it. We lost someone special and we are sad.
Australia’s sad. I’m sad.
He’s part of a sport that lives in my house and my family nearly every day. He lived in my daily life, even though I didn’t know him the person and he certainly didn’t know me. I only know the Cricketer Phil Hughes and that’s who I’m sad for. I don’t know this Person Phil Hughes, that’s for his family and friends to mourn. They have that right.
I will say he was a bloody decent cricketer. Good technique and young. He had so much to look forward to.
I’m so sad for your loss Hughes Family. If there’s anything we, as Australia, can do, let us know. We’ll only be too happy to lend a hand.
Oh, I am so very sorry to hear this sad news. To see someone with such promise being cut down so young – it hurts. You hurt for yourself, for him, for the sport, for his family and friends, and it doesn’t matter if you never shook his hand or lifted a pint with him. It hurts. All that energy, all that promise, gone – just like that.
Special prayers and gentle thoughts to Sean Abbott, who is surely living in a nightmare from which he cannot wake.
I had to smile about his being one of yours. It’s that way in flyover land USA, here in Iowa. If you were born here and your family moved away when you were two weeks old, never to return, you’re still an Iowan, one of us, one of ours.
I wouldn’t know which end of a cricket bat to hold, and I don’t have one to put out, but what I can do is to tell this story to friends and family I visit with this (US) holiday weekend and so increase the number of people praying, holding gentle thoughts, and remembering this young man and all who mourn for him. Healing thoughts are being sent your way, Kaetrin. Thank you for sharing this with us.
We heard about this yesterday Kaetrin. It is so, so sad. Your post did such a good job of conveying the particular sadness of Australians & cricketers about this horrible freak accident. I’m so sorry for the loss of this young man’s life, for him, for his family & friends, and for your country & the sport that means so much to so many people.
I slightly identify with the importance of cricket to Australians because I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Home of the Cincinnati Reds (short for Red Stockings) , the 1st professional baseball team of the US, established in 1869. For 120 years our city was granted the honor of hosting Opening Day, the first game of the season, at which the President of the United States traditionally throws out the first pitch. When I was growing up in the 1960’s baseball was very much the life’s blood of this city. Everyone was a baseball fan, men & women & kids alike glued to TV or radio for every game; the Reds were *always* on radio, even if they were not televised. The sounds of a baseball game on radio playing in the background is an integral “sound of a summer day” in my mind & provokes instant nostalgia anytime I hear it now. Everyone *played* baseball too, or softball, it’s close relative. My immediate family was small. But Mom came from a family of 8 kids, Dad from a family of 7 kids, so when I was growing up a family picnic always involved Aunts, Uncles & cousins on a makeshift baseball diamond, with everyone from little tiny kids like me to people in their fifties out there playing. My dad was an avid player & fan, his unrealized dream was to be a professional ball player & he even had a try-out for a pro team when he was young. Among my earliest memories of him is of him teaching me to pitch & catch & swing a bat in our backyard; another is of him taking me with him to a game when I was about 3-4 years old.
Baseball players were both national & local celebrities, heroes to kids & very much beloved. If they were hometown boys, even better, but they all became hometown boys to this town. And in those days players often spent their whole career with one team. B
Those days are gone now. Once christened America’s National Pastime, baseball has pretty much been usurped by (American) football for that title. And like all sports, baseball has become commercialized, players never stay in one place for long, there are strikes, big salaries, scandals have eroded that “hero” status. But your story reminds me of that time.
@Marilyn: Thank you Marilyn. Today is Saturday (here). People all over the nation are playing cricket today in their local and district matches. The state matches have been abandoned for this week and the international 2 day match between India and the Cricket Australia 11 (the “B team”) was cancelled also. But at sporting events all over the nation – not just cricket – people are having 2 or 3 minutes silence and putting out their bats (the soccer league leaned it on a soccer ball – it was special). I’m glad I was able to express, in a small way, what the nation is feeling. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you and Mr. Bat!
@Pam/Peejakers: I couldn’t really come up with a US comparison sport. Soccer is international and basketball is, but my sense is that Americans don’t “universally” identify with either one. I know NFL and baseball is very popular but it’s only played in the US. Cricket is kind of unique for those countries that play the game I think. That said, I think you’re right with your baseball analogy – maybe not now, but the way it used to be, yes.
@everyone Thank you for your good wishes and thoughts. I’m sure it means a lot to the family and friends of Phil Hughes and Sean Abbott.
I just wanted to share this article which gives a picture of Australian cricket fields this weekend. http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/sport/phillip-hughes-remembered-michael-clarke-delivers-emotional-tribute-to-batsman-and-confirms-his-odi-number-will-be-retired/story-fnia3gmi-1227139087364?sv=b1ba024113697b0d7b2eda8cfbba6c87&net_sub_uid=5094942