I woke up this morning at 4:24am – Thanksgiving Day in America – to the news that a young talented cricketer has died from an injury received in a cricket match.
His name was Phillip Hughes, and he was 25 years old.
My wife and I are avid cricket fans, and we’ve followed his career from the moment he burst onto the world stage with flair and prominence several years ago.
As a young batsman he was a prodigy. He was audacious, and thrilling to watch. He played gutsy courageous cricket with immaculate style.
And now he’s dead.
Two days ago he was playing in a Sheffield Shield game – a regular state level game – when he was struck by a bouncer. A bouncer is what’s called a “short pitched delivery” – a fast ball bowled to the batsman that bounces up suddenly and erratically – most often at head height.
A cricket ball is a lethal weapon. It’s hard as a rock, and fast bowlers send it down the pitch at close to 100mph. When the ball is a bouncer, the batsman has very little time to react.
Within the rules of cricket a bouncer is a legal delivery. It’s often used to intimidate and unnerve the batsman so that in subsequent deliveries he might make a mistake.
Phillip Hughes saw that this particular ball was coming for his head and he turned slightly away, to protect his face. The ball hit him on the back of his neck just under his helmet. It stuck the main artery leading to his brain.
Doctors later said that the burst artery immediately flooded his brain with blood. Evidently this happens very rarely, and is always fatal.
I haven’t watched the video of what happened – it would upset me too much – but after the ball struck him he stood still gazing blankly at the ground for a couple of seconds, then fell face first into the ground like a sack of wheat.
Those that saw it said it was a sickening moment.
Hughes was treated immediately on the pitch, then taken to hospital where he was put onto life support. Two days later – today Sydney time – he died.
It saddens me beyond words.
He was young, he was freakishly talented, and he always played with such grace. People who knew him said that he was a “good bloke,” which in Australian slang is about the highest compliment you can give a man.
Certainly watching him on the field he always seemed a gentleman. He came from a small country town and he exhibited old fashioned values of respect and decency.
Australia is grieving.
According to the newspapers I’m reading, there has never been such an outpouring of grief in my country to the passing of a sportsman.
Phillip Hughes was loved and admired by cricket fans. Certainly by Jennifer and me. I feel very sorry for his family and those that are personally affected by his death. But I also feel very sorry for the bowler. It wasn’t his fault. It was an accident. Yet he will live with it for the rest of his life.
At Thanksgiving lunch today I will be thinking of Phillip Hughes. And thanking him for inspiring me with his courage and flair and grace.
You’re a good bloke mate and we’ll miss you.