Virtually all of the time this blog is focussed on aspects of business, technology and change; even when my writing starts out in an ostensibly different place, I habitually bring my thoughts back to one of these three areas. This post is not like my normal ones. I trust that readers will understand my motivations in deviating from my regular subject matter,
Earlier today it was announced that Australian international cricketer Phillip Hughes (ESPNcricinfo profile here) had sucumbed to injuries suffered two days earlier while playing for South Australia against New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield (Australia’s domestic First Class cricket league). Hughes was struck by the cricket ball somewhere between the top of his neck and base of his skull. He was wearing a protective helmet as most cricketers do nowadays, but these do not cover every angle from which the head can be hit. Without getting into morbid details, Hughes was very unlucky, being hit in exactly the wrong place in exactly the wrong way; cricket is a dangerous sport, but mercifully fatalities are rare.
Regular readers on these pages will know that cricket is my favourite sport. I played in some capacity – though never very well – from under the age of 10 to my mid-twenties. I have followed it ever since and cricket-related articles have appeared on this site on many occasions before. Indeed I have written here about Phil Hughes, here is part of what I had to say about him back in July 2009:
Hughes is only 20 and has burst onto the international cricketing scene in a matter of months. Before the current tour to England, he had played just three Tests (the name given to five day cricket matches between different countries). However, these were all against South Africa, one of the strongest teams in the world at present. In his six innings (a team generally bats twice in a Test Match) he had made 415 runs at the eye-catching average of 69.16 [number of runs / (number of innings – times not out)]. By way of reference, this is higher than any other player in either of the current Australian and English teams.
While to play an international sport for your country is the pinnacle of athletic success, Hughes was not able to fully establish himself at the highest level, though it is possible that – absent these tragic events – he would have had a recall to the Australian team in the near future. His playing record will now sadly show that he played just 26 Test Matches and 25 One Day Internationals. It is however arguable that his best days in cricket were ahead of him. Sometimes batsmen who bloom early, as Hughes did, have a second and more sustained later flowering based on a better understanding of their own game and greater experience.
Of course any life cut short is a tragedy, leaving questions around what the person could have done if granted more time. However, when someone with demonstrable talent, a clutch of achievements and the likelihood of more to come, has their story end too early it does lead to a special type of sadness, coupled with musings about what could have been. Having said that, and even if there is a theme of potential not being wholly fulfilled here, it is worth thinking about just how few people are good enough to represent their country at a sport. Compared to the general population, Hughes had a very special talent, even if he will now not have the opportunity to display this over a longer career.
I didn’t know Phillip Hughes, but it is part of the life of an international sportsperson that we all want a part of them; be they the “heros” who play for our team or the “villains” who represent the opposition (the quotation marks in both cases are wholly intentional). Part of the appeal of sport is its vicarious nature. Having played and watched cricket for years and having both suffered and seen injuries during my playing years, I suppose I do somehow feel close to what has happened to Phil. Perhaps this is just part of the general human need to connect, perhaps we all want to augment our own stories by borrowing from those of other people. In any case, the news of his untimely death while playing my chosen sport has touched me, touched me enough to write about it.
Seldom will associates of a departed person, have bad things to say about them, particularly when the person’s life has ended so suddenly. However it is very noticeable that, amongst the many tributes from the cricketing world, virtually everyone has taken the time to single out what a good person Phillip Hughes was off the field. While his passing is very sad, both for onlookers like me and in a much more real sense for his family and friends, these comments are testament to Hughes the man and not just the sportsman. While the ending was horrible, teammates have said that cricket was the biggest part of his life and – recognising the overused cliché – he died doing something that he loved. I hope that this fact and the kind words said about Phil by everyone who knew him bring some comfort to his family circle.
In closing I’d like to also spare a thought for another person very much affected by these awful events, up-and-coming New South Wales fast-medium bowler Sean Abottt (ESPNcircinfo profile here). It was Abbott who delivered the ball which inadvertently led to Hughes’s demise. It has been good to see the cricketing world rallying round to support Abbott as well, I suspect he will need a lot of help in coming days and months.