Phillip Hughes died today.
You probably won’t know who he was unless you’re a cricket fan.
He wasn’t one of the game’s greats. At 25, he didn’t have time to be. He’d been in and out of the Australian side since his debut at 20, and although he’s played at state level almost constantly in that time, no one knows who state cricketers are. He may have been gifted, I don’t know. His unorthodox technique certainly got him into trouble as often as it propelled him to a match-winning score.
For his whole career, he’s been billed as the next big thing. You always got the sense his big break, where he cemented his place in the national side, was just about to happen. On Tuesday he was working on exactly that, batting in a state game, trying to stake a claim on an empty place in the Australian team for next week’s match against India.
He hadn’t made a false shot all day, and had carefully moved on to 63. Then he made a mistake - swinging early at a short ball that didn’t have as much pace on it as he thought. The ball hit his head. This in itself is unremarkable; mistiming a shot and taking the ball on the body happens in pretty much every cricket game. But that day he got unlucky, and the ball him him in the back of the head, under the helmet.
He collapsed. His brain bled. He lay in a coma. And then he died.
I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. I’ve watched him play, both on TV and in the stadium, but I’m just a spectator. By all accounts he was a friendly and cheerful person, lots of fun, and he worked incredibly hard on his game. But I don’t actually know that. And yet, I cried.
Why is that? Why do I feel a connection to a complete stranger? I’ve taken enjoyment from his skill, I’ve been his advocate in arguments with friends about his place in the team, but I didn’t have anything invested in him. Maybe it’s just the unfairness of it. He’s was a good person, with big dreams and his best cricket ahead of him. Maybe it’s some sort of lost hope, because we all wanted to see him succeed.
Now he’s gone. Cricket will go on. We’ll see more amazing games and more ridiculous ones. But he won’t be there. We won’t see his next ton. We won’t see him retire and get to look back over a completed, successful career. We’ll still watch replays of his game so far, but it’ll always be tainted by the loss of what might have been.
I’m going to have a drink for him tonight. I’m going to say a prayer for his family, his friends, his fellow cricketers. I’m especially going to pray for Sean Abbott, the poor fellow who did nothing wrong as he bowled a run-of-the-mill bouncer that just happened to knock a man over. He’s another one with a big future ahead of him, provided this experience doesn’t utterly ruin him.
Rest in peace, and thank you for entertaining us and allowing us to hope with you.