You have always imagined heartbreaks in cricket to revolve around one team not making a run of the last ball and ending up losing, or a player getting injured and missing out on a crucial match, say, a World Cup final. You have never bordered your imagination along the lines of death. But cricket is a cruel game. The game we all love and live for, is one that continues to throw stark reminders about how small we all are, how utterly meaningless our everyday squabbles are, and how life literally changes in split seconds.
When Mark Boucher’s Test career ended when a bail damaged his eye in the lead up to what would have been a fitting swansong in England, we were reminded of the game’s cruelty and the risk involved. Gary Kirsten bled on the Gaddafi pitch as a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer hit him just below his eye. Smith also fractured his finger facing a barrage of short balls from Mitchell Johnson. Justin Langer got hit by Makhaya Ntini but lived to come back and win the Ashes. Death was not a talking point. It was not in our realm of possibilities.
Phillip Joel Hughes is no more and the entire cricketing fraternity — administrators, players, coaches and fans — is in a state of disbelief. World Cup wins, nail-biting encounters, hundreds, five-fors — all these pale in front of this tragedy. I cannot imagine a cricketer who would want to go out and play the game today. Hughes is gone, forever not out for 63.
Just like this incomplete knock, Hughes has gone leaving behind an incomplete career. He was a special talent, one who did not get many consistent chances at the top. Twin hundreds against South Africa, playing only his second Test match, and that, too, facing the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Ntini — it was special stuff indeed. Yet, he was always the one who had to make way for others; always the one discarded after a failure or two, left to wonder what more needed to be done. Well he went away doing just that — the little extra that he needed to do to get back into the squad.
In August this year, the Australian skipper spoke highly of Hughes, even going on to predict that he was a “100-Test” player. It must have been a relief, having been used to hearing bad news from the selectors almost every other day.
He was all but certain to step in for the injured Michael Clarke against India. Imagine his thoughts on having reached a half-century in his last innings. ‘I have done enough and I am surely getting the nod this time.’ But, who would have thought?
Who knows and, more importantly, who cares about just another cricket match now. It has taken away a life that promised so much.
The next time Steyn or Johnson fire one in, batsmen will be fearful both ways — taking evasive action or hitting out — and commentators will not enjoy describing such a contest like they used to, for somewhere deep down, their realm of possibilities will have the death of Phillip Hughes written all over it.
This one is from all cricket fans in Pakistan: rest in peace Phillip.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2014.
Phillip Joel Hughes, Australia’s 408th test match player, passed away yesterday after having been knocked down by a bouncer in a first-class match being played at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He played 26 test matches and averaged 32.65 with the bat. At the time of his injury, Phillip was batting at 63.