The news of Phil Hughes’ death was less shocking for me, than what I saw on youtube, when I saw a seemingly innocuous bouncer from a moderately fast bowler hitting the (seemingly) well-helmeted Hughes, of him being dazed, and of him collapsing. As the news had it, Hughes didn’t recover consciousness and was pronounced dead three days later. A medical expert had said that Hughes’ was a “freak accident” — the type of injury which was so rare that there are possibly no more than 100 such reported cases worldwide; Hughes’ being the first from Cricket.
Contributing factors to the horror of Hughes’ injury and death are the facts that he was a young and blossoming prodigy, whose future as a Cricketer was, as yet, half unfolded. Statistics show Phil Hughes still in the early days of a career with 25 Test matches and 26 ODIs. His aggregate stands just over 1500 runs in Tests and 800 runs in ODIs. He has played a solitary T-20 international. Hughes would have been 26 on the weekend of his demise. Hughes’ death, according to some critics, is the worst onfield tragedy since the death of Formula One driver Ayerton Senna in 1994. This, of course, is debatable as there have been other tragic accidents on and outside sportsfields since Senna; but, let us not move into that debate yet.
Phil Hughes belongs to a cluster of talented top order batsmen to come into the spotlight (from Australia) in recent years, which also includes the likes of Tim Paine and David Warner. In fact, a distraught Warner was seen to accompany Hughes’ unconscious person out of the ground in the aftermath of the fatal hit. Watching the various news captures as shown on Fox TV (reproduced via youtube) my feelings were deeply stirred, specially as I considered Hughes as a player with a decent future ahead of him; at least in the Test format. The outward inoccuousness of the hit and the rapidity with which Hughes collapsed into the pitch was a horror to witness; specially, as Cricket is a game that, to me, is as familiar as the cup of tea I habitually take.
Hughes’ death also makes us reminisce of at least two other similar onfield deaths caused by the speeding Cricket ball. But, unlike in Hughes’ case — a batter, fully protected to the tooth — both these other victims were fielders, placed close in and without sufficient protective gear. One of these relates to the school boy Cricketer from D.S Senanayake College, Malik Alles, who died at the age of 17, after being hit while fielding close. While at college, I remember accounts of Malik Alles’ accident being told to my class by our Logic master, who claimed to have been among the first to approach Malik Alles after being hit.
Secondly, and more recently, the former Indian Cricketer Raman Lamba’s death also comes to mind as one of the most tragic stories to be heard from the Cricketing field. Lamba’s death occured in 1998, when he was smashed on the head by a travelling ball, while fielding up close in a First Class game in Bangladesh. Lamba had earlier appeared for India in an interrupted career in which he was mainly used as a “one day specialist”. As the story goes, the ball that hit Lamba on the head had enough force in it to deflect and propel towards the wicket-keeper, who had taken the deviating ball as a catch to dismiss the batsman. But, Lamba had immediately after complained of pain and discomfort and was rushed off. Raman Lamba was pronounced dead two days later.
The Cricketing world, it is evident, was quite rattled by Hughes’ death. The ongoing Sheffield Shield games in Australia, as reported, have been suspended for the week; as was the coinciding day’s play of the New Zeland-Pakistan test, currently being played at UAE. It is only gentlemanly and politically correct for players, boards and officials to offer condolences at a time like this; but, in some of the tweets shared by forums, we see the extent to which the tragedy had shaken up the global Cricketing establishment. A crestfallen Sean Abbot (the bowler who hit Hughes) leaving the hospital after the pronouncement of Hughes’ death was a stirring photo; and what Abbot must be going through right now is only known by him.
The bouncer has always been a lethal weapon in a fast bowler’s armoury: a type of delivery which has been the seed of controversy from time immemorial. Be it Douglas Jardine’s use of Larwood and Voce in the Bodyline Series of 1932-33, or the invincible quickies of the West Indies led by the likes of Holding, Roberts, Croft and — later — Joel Garner, the bouncer has always been a pivot around which the suspense of the game rested. The memorable spell by Michael Holding to England’s Brian Close (batting without a helmet and with a bald patch, too) in the 1976 series is as good an adreneline rush as one can ever be witness to. Sadly, Phil Hughes will not live to detail the story of this one fatal hit; which, however, will send a tentative chill down every modern day Cricketer as long as they remember the story and encounter a rising ball.