A Life Too Short. A Life Well PlayedCameron Burge |
A shooting star whose light burned gloriously but all too briefly, the death of Phil Hughes at only 25 reminds us in the most tragic manner of both our own mortality and of the joy which one so gifted can bring us in so short a time.
Despite plying his wares in the modern game, Phil Hughes was in many ways a reminder of a simpler, less complicated cricketing era. That impish grin and beaming smile under a baggy cap seemed something from another age. Hailing from country New South Wales, the way he went about his cricket was reminiscent of a young Doug Walters; uncomplicated, unburdened by the text book and overflowing with natural ability. Here was a player who reduced batting to its simplest form: see the ball, hit the ball.
There are few things more difficult than to contemplate a tribute for one so young, who had so much still ahead of him. More so when you don’t really know the man. I had the pleasure of meeting Hughes at a junior presentation for our club several years ago. At that time he hadn’t made his Test debut, but had just become the youngest player to score a century in a Sheffield Shield Final. He attended the presentation, not because he was rostered to do so by Cricket NSW, but because a friend of his family played at our club. He came to Sydney from Macksville to present some awards, spoke in a quiet, self effacing manner and answered questions from the kids before posing for photos and signing autographs. He was unfailingly modest and polite, giving no indication he would rather be anywhere else as a 19 year old on a Saturday night. Too kind to take any payment for his time, Phil happily accepted a few beers as a token of our appreciation. I was struck by his diminutive stature, and the reserved, almost nervous manner of his delivery. Although a rising star, he was plainly still a country lad at heart.
We watched Hughes make his way into the Australian Test team and to say he arrived with a bang is an understatement. Having made a duck in his first innings, a rambunctious 75 in the second was followed by twin centuries in only his second match, and this against an attack featuring Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis. His off side play was dazzling. As one reporter remarked, he was the most voracious cutter since Sweeney Todd. On this website he was dubbed “The Prince” – the heir apparent. With an Ashes tour to England around the corner and having been named Young Australian Cricketer of the Year, Phil Hughes had arrived.
As is often the case in sport, and indeed life, things did not go to plan for Hughes. Having played with little success in two Tests, he was dropped to make way at the top of the order for Shane Watson. Although he had been troubled by England bowling at his body, Hughes’ axing owed as much to the perceived need for bowling cover for the wayward Mitchell Johnson as it did to his own poor form. There is no question that Hughes’ home-spun technique caused him troubles around leg stump, his body being closed off to the extent that he had problems scoring to the on side. In the determined fashion of the slighted Bushie, Phil got back to work.
Over the ensuing seasons, Hughes continued to pile on First Class runs in abundance. Nevertheless, his episodic test appearances did not reap the returns expected of a talent so prodigious. It was apparent to anyone with an eye for the game that Hughes had worked hard on his technique in order to score freely all around the wicket. Unfortunately, repeated dismissals outside off stump when New Zealand toured Australia saw him once again dropped from the Test arena before he made sporadic appearances culminating in his last match, appropriately at Lord’s. Once again, he was dropped just one match after compiling 81 not out against England, and one wonders what may have been had the selectors not been looking for a quick fix as Australia’s away Ashes quest nose dived.
Looking to reinvigorate his career, Hughes moved to South Australia. It worked. In eleven innings he compiled nearly six hundred runs at 54. Although questions about him at Test level remained, no one could doubt that Phil Hughes had the measure of every Sheffield Shield attack in the country. It seemed that he would have been named as Michael Clarke’s replacement for the first Test against India, yet fate would see it otherwise.
The sadness associated with Phil’s untimely death is heightened by not knowing what might have been. It is always thus when someone dies so young. In the fullness of time there will be discussions about what he may or may not have accomplished had this tragedy not unfolded. For my part, I think he would have returned to the Test team, and ultimately prospered. We spectators take for granted the skill and determination needed to play sport at the top level. It’s easy to sit at a ground or at home and bemoan the performance of those performing deeds we ourselves could only dream of undertaking. Cricket often looks easy on television, but go to the nets at a First Class venue and watch the players practice, or attend a First Grade game where there are no crowds and watch how fast the bowling is from side on. It takes a certain courage to play cricket at the top level, especially as an opening batsman. Phil Hughes was nothing if not courageous.
There will be many tears shed for Phil, and there should be. The macho hubris of cricket, sport and life in general will be set aside and placed firmly into proper perspective by his passing. It is a credit to the sport he loved that so many of its players, administrators and followers thought of nothing but providing support to him and his family through this most awful time. We are reminded above all that professional sportspeople are human too, none more so than Sean Abbott, to whom our thoughts must turn at this horrendous time. We think of Phil’s family, friends and team mates, many of whom I expect will not look upon cricket in quite the same way again.
Vale The Prince.
Phil Hughes. A life too short. A life well played.
Memories of respect for his passing are being left in the Cricket Web Forum.