Just a few words about Phil Hughes

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It’s never easy to cover serious news on a website like this because whatever we write will have to stand alongside something stupid. Our usual way of dealing with this is to just let the serious story completely pass us by. But you can’t write a cricket site and not comment on the death of a cricketer who was killed while playing cricket. Where are you if you start doing that anyway? The modern world is a disconnected, unfeeling place at times. Ignoring a person’s death is not acceptable.

However, the first thing we’ve noticed is that even if people can feel distanced from major events nowadays, the cricket world – and that includes you and us – seems to remain healthily responsive. We’re writing this because it’s a struggle to read. Phil Hughes’ death seems to have rinsed all the cynicism away so that even trite words are making us teary.

That’s one of the things about cricket. A day’s play is six hours; a Test match five days; a tour can last months – it’s a lot of time to get to know someone. We don’t see players in every situation in their life, but we do see a hell of a lot of them. We take in the ups and downs that shape them – ups and downs which can be very personal and unrelated to the fortunes of their team. Cricket’s like a huge, freakish family and when a cricket family member dies, we all feel a sense of loss.

Quite a few of the obituaries are saying that Hughes was destined for greatness, which is the kind of fortune-telling revisionism which often takes place when someone dies at an unacceptably young age. We don’t much care whether he would have been great or not. What we’ll miss is Hughes’s career, however it might have panned out. That was the fascination – in seeing things unfold.

And Hughes was a truly fascinating player. We’d have loved to have seen how things went from here. He could look – and we’ll not mince our words here – outright bad at the crease. He could look like a bad batsman. But he could also look good and more than anything, he could perform in a way that made him impossible to ignore. He bounced between those extremes like no-one else and that is what we’ll miss. All players are unique, but Hughes was a high profile, potentially-alter-your-entire-way-of-thinking unique.

His career seemed to constitute an experiment as to whether really obvious shortcomings could be completely negated by sheer brilliance. Hughes would pick up a whole string of ducks and you’d think it was an open-and-shut case and then he’d score hundreds when no-one else could get off the mark. That was the quality we picked up on in his early days and he only became more interesting when we later discovered that his was a qualified brilliance.

Freakishly heavy scoring is hard to ignore and if Australians still talk about Shaun Marsh as being some great white hope, it’s worth noting that Hughes made over twice as many first-class hundreds despite being six years younger. He was 25. We hadn’t even started this website when we were 25. We hadn’t even thought about doing the thing that we do when were the age at which Phil Hughes has died. We know a sportsman’s career starts and ends earlier than most, but it isn’t meant to end this early.


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  1. Good decision not to try and ignore this. I know it doesn’t always come easy to try and talk seriously about something like this, particularly for those of us (probably a significant proportion of the readership of this site) who aren’t great with the emotional stuff.

  2. I’m sad about this.

    And I think that’s all I’m going to say on the matter. You said the rest.

  3. Nicely put, KC. His was definitely a more interesting career to follow than most, because of the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs that he had, and his resiliency in coming back each time. Very sad indeed.

    Would be interested in your thoughts, in time, on Sean Abbott and what he must be going through.

    1. Just that he’s desperately unlucky, but that it must be hugely challenging – if not impossible – to convince himself of that fact.

    2. I imagine he feels much like Peter Lever did after he hit Ewan Chatfield:

      “I felt sick and ashamed at what I had done and all I could think when I got back to the pavilion was that I wanted to retire.”

      Horrible news.

    3. He’s going to be devastated. Not his fault whatsoever, but I doubt that’s going to be much consolation.

  4. While trite to say he was destined for greatness, it is at least true his Test career statistics reveal more about his limitations and oscillations than his very substantial potential. If future generations know him only through averages they will be woefully misled. I wanted to say stats don’t do him justice though I suppose they did sum up his career to date. But he should have had a very different and much longer career.

    Regardless of which, it’d still be a tragedy even if he were a rubbish player. My point, if I have one, is roughly that while it would still have been tragic if he were rubbish at the game, actually he wasn’t, and there’s no harm saying he would have left a substantial mark on it, because he would.

  5. I am unaccountably upset about this news, having only the most tenuous possible of links with the man – him being good at something I like watching. For those closer to him – cricketers, team-mates, friends and family – I can’t imagine how bad this must be.

    The fact that this happened while doing the thing we watched him for somehow seems to require us to say or do something. The unnecessariness of it is also very difficult – this wasn’t an accident waiting to happen or just a matter of time. This was a moment in time that had any of a thousand things happened slightly differently, nobody would have noticed a thing.

    But what can you say? Twenty-five year olds should not die while playing their chosen sport, but like everything else I can think of, that falls under the category “things that go without saying”.

    Well spoken everyone.

    1. Very sad news. I enjoyed watching him bat.
      Anyone who has played or watched loved ones play enough cricket will have seen some nasty incidents that for a moment made you think that someone may have been seriously injured. Perhaps that’s why the news is hitting a lot of people harder than they would expect.

    2. Yes this is right. So many times we have seen someone get hit while batting, they stagger around and look a bit groggy but they always get better.

    3. Agreed on all counts.

      As seriously as we take sport, or as flippantly as we treat it, it remains just that: sport. I’ve followed motorsport and cycling over the last few decades and had the misfortune a few years ago of being at an event where a young man died (similarly unpredictable and probably unpreventable) and the thought I had then was exactly what you’ve already said; nobody should die playing sport.

  6. I’ve been in a funk about Phil Hughes since I woke up.

    Back when he was dropped after the 2013 Lord’s test I felt he’d been harshly treated and that if you were going to dump players for inconsistency, you’d need a fresh Aussie XI for pretty much every test.

    His debut test century was 115 vs South Africa and it deserves to be watched, if for nothing else than trying to YouTube his name today is a rather grisly affair.

    1. We really hope that the YouTube search results sort themselves out over time. It’s not appropriate that the manner of his death should predominate and we’d question whether footage of the incident really needs to be on there at all.

    2. Agree fully re the footage.

      At health and safety briefings we used to get shown video of the Bradford stadium fire which was utterly appalling. I was very glad the film existed for appropriate use (the H & S manager would switch it off before it got too gruesome, but he would stress the point of taking fire drills seriously and be aware how quickly a small fire can become lethal) but wouldn’t want thousands of virtual rubber neckers gawping at victims burning alive while google takes in the ad revenue. Thrice so if I had had family at the disaster.

      Perhaps coaches should look at the Hughes footage, and certainly equipment manufacturers should, but for anybody else I question the value. Other than that it is all in incredibly poor taste.

      It is not even as if cricket is like motorsport where many spectators watch for the spectacular crashes – observers often appreciate the risks of cricket and admire the man who can face genuine pace, but by and large we are not baying for blood and this incident is not a cruel satisfaction of our desire. Contrast that with, say, the death of Senna, where many people felt a guilt that they had found so many accidents that had gone before to be entertaining, with the doctors and ambulance to make it all okay. We didn’t want to see this. We didn’t want to see anything like this. And I hope when people search for Hughes in future, they don’t see this either.

    3. I’m afraid that’s how I’ll remember him too. He should have had at least five years of correcting those mistakes, though. Alas.

    4. @Balladeer & Collywobble no shame I think. many followed his career for the glorious improbability of whatever happened next. My view of him swung from distaste (yet another precocious Aussie batsman) to bemusement (how do you dominate Steyn and Morkel and then get found out by the short ball), to mirth (Guptill/Martin) to sympathy (capricious droppings and non pickings) so that I started to wish him well for his career – it was fun to watch. Hence tributes to his resiliance, strength of character and hard work – he kept comining back for one more improbable episode. It was all part of the story of Phil Hughes , why we care, and why we follow cricket.

  7. Bloody hell Alex, you have so eloquently written what many of us are feeling. I am not sure why but I feel so sad about the whole thing, it seems like it will take an age to move on.

  8. It’s a difficult one, mixing tragedy and comedy. Far too easy to misjudge. However, I feel there is a way to use the jocularity of KC (and its comments) in a way appropriate to the situation:

    We all can’t spake.

  9. I just hope Matthew Hayden isnt interviewed about it. He was on Aus tv the other day crapping on about how the ‘baggy green spirit was strong in Phil Hughes’ (or words to that affect). I just thought for once in your life show some common sense and compassion , but he had to come out with absolute garbage like that when someone was lying in a coma.
    Phil Hughes died far too young , it was a tragic accident and he will be remembered for being an execptional cricketer and a decent person.
    His legacy shouldnt be commented on by Hayden in any circumstances…

    1. “He bounced between those extremes like no-one else and that is what we’ll miss. All players are unique, but Hughes was a high profile, potentially-alter-your-entire-way-of-thinking unique. His career seemed to constitute an experiment as to whether really obvious shortcomings could be completely negated by sheer brilliance.”

      What could Hayden add to that. Perhaps that Abbott should have shown some remorse after bowling that bouncer. This is the one time such observation, if nothing more, would be unnecessary.

  10. Yesterday I mentioned Hughes’ amazing match for Middlesex against Surrey at the Oval in 2009.

    This morning I got a little green nudge from a tearful bunny, who asked me to post this link – Hippity’s MTWD match report on a day of that match.

    Alert for the KC orthodox – MTWD match reports are allowed to mention the cricket:


  11. Most bizarre morning of test cricket I’ve ever seen in NZ vs Pakistan. NZ take 7/70 in a session, not a single smile or celebration. No bouncers bowled, no close fielders in front of the wicket. Now we’re batting and McCullum is 50 off 30 balls.

    1. While I completely understand the gravity, is this really what Hughes would have wanted? He loved the sport, I presume. He would have wanted others to love it after him.

      I get that it’s partly about the feelings, which may be out of the players’ control, but I like to think that Phil Hughes would have wanted some more celebrations and less ghostly silence.

    2. Looked to be more a result of being overwhelmed than intentionally being reserved. McCullum looks to be heading for a pretty intense century, seems very focused. Didn’t realize he played a season for NSW and opened with Hughes.

  12. I can’t believe Phil Hughes is dead. Phil Hughes. How could I not see him again? I just said he’d play a hundred tests. How is he not around anymore? Christ. Fuck.

    1. Agreed. There is no right answer but there are good and not such good calls. The tone of Cricket Badger was spot on.

      On the whole, I feel that the cricketing community is trying to come to terms with this tragedy in a spirit of great dignity, thoughtfulness and common sense.

  13. Excellent words KC. Jarrod’s words on cricketwithballs are also extremely poignant and moving. It is a strange thing but this tragic event has moved me more (and by some distance) than any other person I’ve never met passing away. The cricketing communities response has been wonderfully heartfelt generally and this ‘goodness’ has somehow emphasised the horror of this awful event.

  14. On the matter of other Alex Bowden postings, the latest Page 2 piece is a corker:


    I yesterday sent a comment praising the piece to the rafters. Cricinfo has clearly chosen to moderate out the comment. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the words Orwell, doublethink and doublespeak in the same sentence as the terms ECB and ICC. The irony of such a comment being suppressed is not wasted on me.

    1. And England are duly proving the entire piece exactly right! I’m having more fun following the New Zealand game, to be honest.

  15. With reference to the general sneering at Justin Langer a few posts ago, you might like to read his tribute to Hughes. I find Langer a little too ingenuous myself, but he’s a simple man. Probably the best cricketers are simple and straightforward. Look what happens to the ones with a bit more complexity. Anyway, its a nice piece. No God in it, either.


  16. I don’t want to spoil the comedic tones of other posts, so I’ll put this here.

    Michael Clarke – the tough dog, Mr. “Get Ready For a Fucking Broken Arm” – has just reduced me almost to the brink of tears. Great speech. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to loathe him again.

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