Why Phil Hughes' death resonates


Phil Hughes batting

I remember first seeing Phil Hughes bat at the Sydney Cricket Ground in his first game for NSW back in 2007 where he scored 53. He was the new ‘boy from the bush’ with a slightly unorthodox left-handed style. He was then only 18, being born in our bicentenary year. 

I later witnessed his highest test score at the SCG, 87 – traditionally the unlucky number for Australian cricketers – against Sri Lanka in January 2013, the second highest score in the Australian innings of 432. He was a strong and confident player and you always felt there was a chance of excitement when he was there. 

Sadly he never scored a test century in Australia, but he scored two in South Africa in Durban in 2009. His century in each innings in Durban in March 2009 was achieved at the young age of 20 year and 98 days – 31 days younger than the great Bradman achieved.

Death at 25 is a shock, whether it is a famous cricketer or a young person setting out on their life and career. I think back to what I had managed to achieve at 25, and then think about what if that had been all I managed to do. What possibilities were there for Phil Hughes? Once again he seemed on his way back to the Australian team having recently scored 243 for an Australian A side in August against South Africa.

He was a professional cricketer, who was chosen to play for his country, the dream of every young cricketer. The hard part for the professional cricketer often comes at the end of their career – what do they do next? Sadly Hughes will never reach that quandary.

Those of us who have played cricket know there is a risk, but is it life threatening? How was it possible? I have been hit on the head several times by a cricket ball, and was nearly concussed once as an umpire, but I never imagined the chance of a fatal injury as happened this week at the SCG. 

Playing cricket it is about enjoyment and participation with your team mates. Getting a low score or being hit all over the ground as a bowler can be disheartening, but you try again the next game and hope for the best. Sadly for Phil Hughes his last game was a draw and he wYeas recorded as retired hurt for 63, at his old home ground playing for his adopted State of South Australia.

A few years ago I remember the contest between a determined Steve Waugh and the South African fast bowler Alan Donald also at the SCG. Waugh batted through what was a ferocious spell of fast bowling, but he did not come away unbruised. In his book, The Meaning of Luck, Waugh commented on courage and said in his view real courage was the ANZACS charging into machine gun fire at Gallipoli, not cricketers facing fast bowling. 

Phillip Hughes died from an injury playing the game he loved. The shock of the suddenness of the death following the injury on Tuesday has stunned fans and players all over the cricket world. The shock of it has a numbing effect, yet just seeing the photo of his devastated parents leaving St Vincents shows the extent of their loss. His death is a tragedy. The other tragedy is for the young NSW bowler Sean Abbott. What must he be feeling, having to always live with the memory of bowling that bouncer. 

Will this change the way cricket is played? Will the bowler hold back in case he injures the batsman, will the batsman be more careful but hesitant because of knowing what happened to Phil Hughes? Should the International Cricket Council (ICC) intervene to restrict such dangerous bowling? Will there be hesitancy in Mitchell Johnson as he comers running in to bowl to the Indians this summer?

I hope not. For the spectator we like to see a solid contest, marked by skill and the beauty of that seemingly effortless shot sending the ball to the boundary, or the stumps cartwheeling away after a perfect delivery. These achievements we lesser skilled spectators can only dream of ever performing. 

Young people are dying every day around the world, in tragic circumstances. Yet somehow the sudden and unexpected death of a young cricketer has the headlines. Maybe it is partly in the way that the ‘boy from the bush’ who did well image still resonates in Australia. Maybe it was because he just did what he loved and did not make a fuss about being dropped from the test team, but he went back to working hard and making his way back into selection.

There is a tragedy in the loss of such a potentially great player but also for the bowler who will never forget the moment of impact. As a spectator we can salute the late Mr Hughes, and the joy and hope he brought to spectators around the world. May he rest in peace.

Kerry Murphy profile photoKerry Murphy is a cricket umpire who also works as an immigration lawyer.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, Phillip Hughes, cricket, sport, values



submit a comment

Existing comments

Good to see the avowedly secular Adelaide Advertiser bannering a headline "Pray for Phil" the morning after the accident, and his Redbacks captain expressing the hope of meeting him again in heaven.

John | 29 November 2014  

Why indeed. Hughes' personal circumstances would apply to tens of thousands of young people going about their daily lives, So what was so special about Phil Hughes? What made his death different form any other young person who is suddenly struck down by misadventure? A work colleague of mine dropped dead while jogging during his lunch break. But he was probably not the first jogger to die or suffer some catastrophic meltdown. And I think that's what makes this death so newsworthy, It's unique. it's the first of it's kind in cricket, and probably in most other sports. Contrast Hughes' passing with Bradman. Two players, poles apart, one arguably one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever seen, the other barely started. The passing of the Don was expected sooner or later, the other not at all; he was young and young people think they are invincible, in fact we all do. That's why we go and watch them play. But The Don's passing had no where near this level of media frenzy that surrounds Hughes' death Why, indeed? And lets not forget another young bloke that died doing his job, Cameron Baird was his name. Cameron who I hear you ask. Why indeed?

Tom Mitchell | 29 November 2014  

I don't play cricket. And it doesn't resonate with me. It's terrible of course but I think the way in which the meeja are filling empty hours with every last detail of this awful event is just tasteless. And I cannot imagine it would be helping his family deal with their loss at all. Any death is awful to loved ones particularly one so young. What we have seen in this case is by any definition over the top.

Kevin V Russell | 01 December 2014  

A strange and pointless piece that sadly offers nothing new.

Peter Goers | 01 December 2014  

Cricketers, apart from losing their team mate, may also be thinking there but for the grace of God go I. And so many of us have some connection to cricket and other sport. This event makes us realise the fragility of human life, and it's preciousness. Still, the allusion to servicemen like Cameron Baird reminds us they deserve equal or greater accolades. The understated spirituality of everyday humans seems to shine at times like these. There is much for us to reflect upon here.

Anne | 01 December 2014  

When Tom Mitchell said: "And lets not forget another young bloke that died doing his job," - I thought he was talking about Someone Else.

Anthony | 01 December 2014  

The death of Phillip Hughes on the cricket field at the SCG was unfortunate, unlucky and unusual. It also shows that there is a very fine line between a minor injury and a fatal injury in any accident. The grief and emotions shown by his family and cricket colleagues is natural and understandable, but most of the media coverage is immature and patronising. The media coverage also demonstrates an unhealthy attitude to celebrity and death. Notwithstanding, the relative young age of Phillip Hughes's death at the age of 25, it would appear that he had a good life as a son and brother in Northern NSW and playing professional cricket around the world. It would also appear that he had good moral and ethical values plus a good sense of humour.

Mark Doyle | 01 December 2014  

Anthony, To my shame I wasn't thinking of Someone Else, but that just goes to show how we can, at times, become obsessed with the ephemera of life, and forget about the bigger picture.

Tom Mitchell | 01 December 2014  

Waugh's comment that "real courage was the ANZACS charging into machine gun fire at Gallipoli" reminds me of that iconic Australian cricketer and WW II fighter pilot Keith Miller's comment when asked about the stress of playing test cricket. 'Stress?" he asked. "What stress? Now, having a Messerschmitt up your arse, that's stress!"

john frawley | 01 December 2014  

There is something unexplained here about the way this blew up into such a huge event. It started with the natural shock and hushed reflection on what a tragedy this was the the family and friends ... then became a media thing with more and more emotional scenes and talk of a state funeral etc. What trigger releases this mass emotion? Is it 'crowd behaviour' taking over? Is it a release valve for a culture that represses feelings, or even expiating guilt that we didn't say or show people that we loved them while we were here. One of the dangers is that it is actually constructing culture; in this case, that the most valued amongst us is the archetypal Aussie sportsman. We need to be careful of confected mass emotions.

Russell | 01 December 2014  

Russell, I agree with you that with the death of Phil Hughes and the mass demonstration of grief especially in Australia but elsewhere too represent something bigger than the man himself. Seeing the endless line of celebrities, politicians, clergy, psychologists etc doing their piece de camera and the ten second sound bite strikes calling for solidarity me as massively disproportionate to the tragic death of one good young sporting man. I think it all shows quite clearly that Australians don't cope with the death itself and especially that of its young and famous. Instead of leaving the disaster in some sort of dignified silence, people have an over powering need to fill up the void with endless clichés and unresolved grief and confusion. Maybe we could leave the real grieving to the family of the dead then learn something from our national secular liturgy of mourning on Anzac Day: have two minutes of silence, go back to normality and resist the temptation to believe that life will never be the same again.

David Timbs | 01 December 2014  

I have a sense that there is a great deal of grief just skin deep in many of us. I believe that our sadness is attached to the state of affairs in our world. There is war, ebola, oppression, cruelty, vacuous leadership, cultural pockets of greed and hardheartedness, fear and hatred towards those who are different. There is also our powerlessness to bring change with the tools that we repeatedly choose. No wonder we cried for Philip Hughes' dying. The tears did not bring us any great loss or cost us anything. When will we Australians cry for refugees cruelly detained? And do something to change their suffering into relief and a chance at a full life? Soon, I hope, now that our tears have reminded us that our hearts are capable of compassion, and that anybody's tragedy is ours too.

Alex Nelson | 01 December 2014  

Every year I grieve for the loss of a mate, killed while trying save another life on a "Dustoff Mission" in Vietnam. He was just doing his job and he loved helping others. In what history has told us was a war that we should not have been involved . I still wonder why over 40 years later. I recall the stunned reaction of the Unit to his passing-he was a little younger than Phil Hughes and unlike Hughes he had a young wife and a seven month old daughter left behind. The response of the guys was instructive. Some like me, simply mourned quietly, others went to the "boozer " and got totally drunk .Sadly the response we are seeing in the media is similar to the members who got drunk. I sincerely and very sadly feel for his parents. I ask myself if one of my children , and they are around his age, were to suddenly have their life ended, how would I react? I hope not like what we are seeing at present. I wish that the media would let the family grieve quietly. On Thursday I will say a quiet prayer for them and thank God for his blessings to my little family.

Gavin | 01 December 2014  

Why ask why? Human responses to grief are just as unpredictable as the wind and the weather. It just happens. Maybe the question should be why don't we grieve so much when a "nobody" dies in a way that isn't an accident, or when an injustice occurs, like an Aboriginal person dying is police custody, or a person with a mental illness or drug affected being shot or tasered to death,

AURELIUS | 04 December 2014  

I feel that Alex Nelson hit the nail on the head. There is a palpable amount of fear and mourning in Australian society today. Is it unreal expectations, loss of wants, unemployed young males and indigenous, illegal migrants and especially the children, government cuts to the most vulnerable? Or simply too much reliance on human beings as gods? Vale Philip Hughes a good cricketer. Vale my nephew David a WA Senior Police Constable who died in a tragic Newman plane 2001. We ask why but there are no real answers. We live on doing the best we can and loving others in hope.

Mart | 05 December 2014  

Similar Articles

Ritual procrastination as part of the grieving process

  • Jim Pilmer
  • 05 December 2014

Personal grief, complicated by group dynamics, is a volatile mixture. Phillip Hughes' death reminds us that personal stories highlight the huge variety of needs and perceptions surrounding a death in the workplace. When do we tidy the desk of the colleague who won't be back? There is a time, but maybe it's not yet. 


Is there a defence vote?

  • John Warhurst
  • 02 December 2014

The wider Defence community is now ascendant in the Australian community, yet the ADF has still suffered an effective cut in pay. Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie is projecting herself as the defender of defence personnel and promising to vote against all government policy until the pay offer is upgraded. But there are strong reasons to suggest defence welfare may not have much of a political impact at the next election.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up