BRIGHT INNINGS CUT TRAGICALLY SHORT

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By Jason Sulligoi – Chief Sports Writer

 

“I’d rather die doing what I love best.” We’ve all heard that old saying before. Unfortunately, it came true for young Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes in a match between SA and NSW.

 

Medium pacer Sean Abbott delivered a short ball that Hughes tried to play but missed. In the cricket world, a ball coming at you at 85km per hour isn’t much chop. The speed didn’t matter. The ball struck Hughes in the side of the neck, just past the ear. His helmet stopped offering protection just above the site of impact. The damage to his vertebral artery caused bleeding into his brain. He collapsed face first to the deck, sending players from both sides into a freaked out frenzy. The pressure inside his skull was too much for surgery to relieve. He died a few days later. He was two days away from his 26th birthday.

 

It was a freak occurrence, seen only once before in Australian cricket way back in the 70s”.

 

The cricket world was in mourning and will be for some time. There were touching tributes from Australian Captain Michael Clarke, who viewed him as his ‘little brother’ and Hughes’s batting coach Justin Langer, whose wife wanted to marry him off to one of their daughters. Compliments don’t come much better than that.

 

The concern shown for the young man that delivered the last ball of Hughes’ career, Sean Abbott, has been tremendous. It was a freak occurrence, seen only once before in Australian cricket way back in the 70s.

 

The old timers might scoff at modern batsmen being padded up like a knight in shining armour, but the recent events of a young life cut tragically short highlight the need for protection. Helmets in Australia will now undergo further adjustments to ensure more protection is offered, including the neck area where Hughes was hit.

 

Anyone who tells you cricket isn’t a man’s game is kidding themselves. My boyhood heroes, such as West Indian master blaster Viv Richards, would arrogantly stride up to the crease wearing a cap which only offered protection from the sun. He would be casually chewing gum, before taking part in the Neanderthal ‘staring down ritual’ between batsman and bowler. Richards would even look around the ground for some nice spots to send the ball and the bowler’s ego with it. This is a man’s game. Bowlers of that era, such as Aussie Jeff Thomson, would thunder the ball at a batsman at 160km per hour. That’s fast. Remember, it was an 85km medium pacer that fatally wounded Phillip Hughes.

 

There were horror broken jaws suffered by David Hookes and Rick McCosker, but they healed and played on. This was the era of kids playing in parks with bugger-all protection. We graduated from a tennis ball with a taped seam, to a fully taped tennis ball, to a cricket ball. We’d occasionally wear knee pads and gloves. The odd joker would wear a ‘box’. In the scorching summer heat it got unbearably hot running up and down the wicket with your knee pads flapping about and your hands feeling like they’re inside an oven. Eventually during your innings, you’d dispense with the extras and play without protection.

 

While playing with mates at the local pavilion and wearing no protective gear, I got hit on the thigh by a cricket ball. It hurt. I didn’t cry, but I felt the tears hanging around. “Are you right Jase?” came the words through muffled laughter from my mates. “Yeah, I’m right, is that the fastest you can bowl ya little poof?” came my indignant reply. We got on with the game. More sensible inspection would see that had that ball moved a bit to the left, it would’ve been curtains for future Father’s Day. The joker that brought the ‘box’ along was smart to wear it after all.

 

Make no mistake; the fastest bowlers of today can still ram the ball through the air at over 160km per hour, which is insanely fast. Aussie paceman Mitchell Johnson terrorises batsmen with some deadly deliveries, but somehow, there is never that fatal ball.

 

I’ve noticed that batsmen will usually observe a safety first approach with the really fast bowlers. This means dodge, duck and weave. If a batsman is in really hot form, or the ball is a safe distance away, then they’ll try a shot. When facing medium pacers however, there is more of an urge to play a shot. The ball isn’t coming as fast so there is more time to see the ball and adjust for a shot. As we saw with Phillip Hughes, if you miss, the consequences can be fatal. A cricket ball travelling at sufficient speed is enough to cause irreparable damage.

 

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Phillip Hughes played 26 Test matches for Australia. He scored three 100s and seven 50s. His top score was 160. His baggy green was number 408. He amassed 26 first class centuries and nine one-day centuries.

 

The son of a Macksville banana farmer was only starting to hit his stride. The country boy who loved his cattle was seemingly on the cusp of an Australian Test recall. The lad with the cheeky grin and tough-as-nails attitude had it all before him. He will never be forgotten and will outlive any mortal test career. 63 not out.

 

Phillip Hughes 1988 – 2014.

 
 
 
Jason Sulligoi is a professional writer and respected drum teacher. Contact sports@thenorthsider.com.au

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