Today marked the funeral of Australian cricketer Phil Hughes. I commented on twitter that I have tried to write a tribute to him and started probably 20 drafts of such a tribute but just could not finish it. Cricket has been a dominant force in my life since I was seven years old and in the 30 years hence I have been a player, a coach, an umpire and a scorer as well as just being a student of the game. The death of a player from an accident on the field has shocked me and saddened me more than I could ever have imagined.
I confess that I was not a massive fan of Phil Hughes: indeed I was oft a proponent of him not being in the team. Equally I admired both his perseverance in the face of the adversity of being in and out of the Australian team and his keenness to seek to improve his game. What shocked me most though was the fact that this accident could have happened to any one of the thousands of batters who play cricket each weekend or, indeed, in their back yards. As a player I both was hit in the head by cricket balls and I hit batters in the head which has led, I am sure, to part of my shock at Phil Hughes’ loss because I keep seeing those I hit in my mind.
Phil Hughes’ untimely and tragic passing represents a significant moment of pause in the game. Domestic cricket in Australia has been stopped, a test match against the super power of the game postponed and the cricket family the world around has been overt in its grief. Today’s celebration of Phil Hughes’ life may lead to a lifting of the pause but it will also lead, in my view, to a seismic shift in the way the game is played (or at least I hope it will).
Of late I have bemoaned a lack of civility that has seemed to pervade the game. Winning at all costs including the use of personal and vocal attacks on opponents and officials has become a talisman of the game and it has turned fans of the game away from it. If the passing of Phil Hughes teaches those who play the game at all levels nothing, it must teach us that cricket is just a game. Yes tempers will flare from time to time but surely the personal hyperbole and aggressiveness now must stop. Life is too short and those closest to us can be taken away from us in a blink of an eye. I hope in my heart of hearts that players, playing in the memory of Phil Hughes, are kinder to each other on the field. I hope that is Phil Hughes’ legacy.
Many, principally non-cricket fans and those who wish to take advantage in situations like this, have pushed for a change to the laws of the game around the bowling of short balls. In this regard there should, nay there must, not be a change in the way the game is played. Short pitched deliveries have been part of the game since the days of Grace and Spofforth and this accident could have happened to any batter batting at any time in the games long history.
The cricket family has been united and vocal in its grief. Now the cricket family must unite again and support those who return to the field to play in Phil Hughes’ honour: that is the best way we can all honour him.
Vale Phil Hughes.