Hughes's talent adds to tragedy

28 November 2014 - 02:01
By ┬ęThe Daily Telegraph
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, pictured here walking into the change rooms at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, died yesterday after sustaining severe head injuries during a match at the SCG
Image: GETTY IMAGES Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, pictured here walking into the change rooms at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, died yesterday after sustaining severe head injuries during a match at the SCG

Phillip Hughes, who has died aged 25 after being hit on the head by a delivery from a New South Wales bowler in Sydney, was an unconventional and thrilling left-handed opening batsman, who scored most of his runs square of the wicket through adventurous cuts and hooks.

Wisden declared: "It almost seemed as though he had started out with the idea of doing everything the opposite way round from the coaching manual."

Had he played in the pre-helmet era, Hughes might well have had to remodel his game, given that when he was not cutting the ball on one side of the wicket, he was hooking to leg. This shot requires considerable gumption.

It was while attempting such a shot against the medium-paced Sean Abbott that Hughes was hit just below his helmet and collapsed on to the pitch. He was taken to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, where he was in an induced coma.

His death emphasises the dangers involved at this level of cricket, despite the introduction of protective headgear in Kerry Packer's World Series in the 1970s.

The hook is executed competently against fast bowling by only the very best batsmen.

Colin Cowdrey, one of the finest players of quick bowling, decried the fact that a hard ball had ever been introduced to the game.

Hughes was a quiet individual, though his teammates fondly recall both him and his humour.

He came to prominence when, at the age of only 20 in his second Test match, he struck two centuries against a South African attack that included Dale Steyn (one of the fastest bowlers in the world), Morné Morkel and Jacques Kallis.

Hughes was nearly six months younger than George Headley when he achieved the same feat for West Indies against England in 1930. So there was no doubting that Hughes could take on the quickest of bowlers.

The medium pace of Abbott was a different proposition in that the ball would not come on to the bat so quickly for the hook shot. Hughes played it a fraction too early, missed and was struck on the side of the head.

He died of an "incredibly rare" condition after he was hit in the neck, compressing his vertebral artery, causing it to split and forcing blood into the brain area, Australian doctors said yesterday.

Doctors removed parts of his skull during the operation but the damage was too severe and he never regained consciousness.

"This was a freakish accident because it was an injury to the neck that caused haemorrhage in the brain. The condition is incredibly rare," Australian team doctor Peter Brukner said. "Only 100 cases have ever been reported."

Hughes's game was first thought to be better suited to harder pitches, on which there was less movement; but short-pitched bowling, coupled with a technique that was completely at odds with the MCC coaching manual, ultimately meant that he would have greater success in the one-day game. Twenty20 cricket could have been invented for his carving and thrashing, hooks and hoicks.

In 26 Tests, Hughes scored 1535 runs at an average of 32.65. He was thought to be on the verge of selection for Australia once more at the time of his death.