An unfulfilled talent…Rest in Peace Phillip Joel Hughes

On Thursday 27th of November 2014 the cricket world was left in mourning as it lost one of its own.

Gone too soon. Phillip Hughes shared his love for cricket with a love for cattle.

Phillip Joel Hughes was a hugely popular and successful batsman in the modern Australian cricket circuit and when he was struck on the back of the neck by a bouncer that would eventually claim his life whilst batting for South Australia against New South Wales at the SCG last Tuesday – It became by a distance the most shocking and devastating incident that has hit cricket in my lifetime.

Such a rareness to the injury that he sustained only made it more hard to comprehend that in this day and age a player can lose his life whilst playing the game he loved.

In the day following the devastating death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, I thought it would be best to express my sadness of his passing in the way of an eulogy towards his tragically short-lived life.

But my mind wasn’t right to write a balanced piece that would befit the man. I was still in shock and disbelief that an Australian cricketer had died playing cricket. For a while I blamed cricket, how could the game I love take away the life of someone who I had enjoyed watching play the sport so closely over the previous five years.

This is how far I got.

Right now I don’t know how I feel about cricket. I don’t even want to think about watching it at the moment. How can I even think about watching Mitchell Johnson bowl at bouncer at Murali Vijay at the Gabba next Thursday or anyone bowling a bouncer at anyone else for that matter.

For those who know me best, this is hard to comprehend as usually I would eat, sleep and breath cricket. But not right now. How could cricket kill Phillip Hughes? Cricket’s a game, how can it take a life of someone so promising and young?

When I first heard the news of the accident that had put Hughes in hospital, I was of course concerned, but never did I begin to think that two days later I would be left as numb as when Hughes lost his battle – A battle I had assumed he would overcome.

*********

Hughes walks off after scoring back-to-back hundreds in only his second Test match.
Hughes walks off after scoring back-to-back hundreds in only his second Test match.

As the song Forever Young played out to a packed Macksville sports hall celebrating the life of Phillip Hughes today, I started to finish the piece I had started almost a week earlier. ‘Forever Young’ turned straight to ‘Too Young’ in my head – Taken far too young.

Born Macksville, Northern New South Wales, a few days over 26 years ago, Phillip Joel Hughes was a talent taken from us far too soon.

I first became familiar with the attacking left-hander when he was called up by Australia for their tour of South Africa in February 2009 as a replacement for the legendary retired opener Matthew Hayden – Big shoes to fill I thought, but at least the Aussies were looking towards youth to begin their rebuilding process.

But boy did Hughes fill those shoes. Facing a Proteas attack that included heavyweights Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini and Jaques Kallis his first four innings in international cricket read: 0, 75, 115 & 160.

Hughes had almost singlehandedly rejuvenated a stagnating and declining Australian side and he became an overnight batting star. His rich form also. continued into the English summer with a hugely successful stint with Middlesex. In short he had become a run machine.

That form soon became short lived though as Andrew Flintoff amongst others, found a weakness in the left-hander’s batting technique outside of off stump. Two Tests into his Ashes debut series and he found himself out of the side for the first of many occasions during his 26-Test career.

He returned to the side on regular occasions during the next five years but always seemed to be the first batsman dropped even when others were suffering a similar form slump.

His batting itself was always exciting to watch. Although he became more of a force as an onside player during the course of his Australian career, he will be forever remembered as predominantly an offside player. And a damn fine one at that.

The sight of Hughes flaying attacks with his square drives and fierce cut shots will be greatly missed throughout the cricket world.

Despite his struggles to maintain a permanent place in the Australian batting lineup, Hughes remained a huge contributor of runs for both New South Wales and South Australia in the Sheffield Shield as well as the Australian A side in various forms. His best attribute as a cricketer was that he was a run scorer. He loved to score runs and usually he would contribute bigs runs at a high strike rate in an attacking manor.

Twenty six first-class hundreds before his 26th birthday suggest he would have eventually cracked Test cricket if he was finally given a sustained run in the first team. With the batting talent and tough mentality that he possessed it surely would have only have been a matter of time before he started scoring regular ODI and Test hundreds for his country.

Despite suggestions he was going to be recalled to the Australian side in the place of the injured Michael Clarke for the first Test against India which was due to start this week, one would imagine his first opportunity to maintain a permanent place in the batting lineup would have been as an opener alongside Dave Warner once Chris Rogers stepped aside next year.

*******

As a man Hughesy or Huge Dog (as he was known by both of his mates and teammates) was a quiet team man with a huge love of life. He was a tough man in the mould of the Chappell’s, Waugh’s, Border’s and Ponting’s before him.

Despite not knowing Phillip Hughes, he seems like a man and cricketer who I would have loved to have met – After all we share the same love for both cricket and cattle!!

He was a player I followed very closely over the years and in recent times I found myself constantly looking at the South Australian and Australian scorecards hoping to see yet another Hughes hundred as I knew that alongside Steven Smith – He was the future of the Australian batting lineup for the next decade.

Unfortunately life can be cruel to the people who don’t deserve it, there will be no more watching his fierce cut shots or seeing his infectious smile.

It’s with a heavy heart I have to say, Rest in Peace Phillip Joel Hughes – Forever 63 not out. X

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