What an irony! Accustomed to taking on the fast bowlers, Phil Hughes, 25, fell victim to a delivery that did not quite have the pace he had anticipated. He swung and missed, and collapsed in a heap, never to rise. Sport had claimed a young life on the field in a most cruel manner.
Hughes was a typical Australian at the crease — aggressive, competitive and full of energy. His arrival on the big stage, with a century in each innings against South Africa in Durban, had raised expectations. It was always going to be a tough benchmark to live up to, and he subsequently lost his place in the Test team.
Hardly a precocious talent, he loved to work on his batting, and the hard work reflected in the manner in which he built each of his innings. He belonged in Test cricket, playing the waiting game, grinding down the attack, the crease his domain.
He may have lacked the grace left-handers are generally associated with, but Hughes was a batsman who delivered substance rather than style.
Brian Lara was right when he said cricket was a “dangerous game.” Incidents like this remind one of how perilous a pursuit cricket can be.
It has always been a dangerous game, right from the days of the infamous Bodyline series. Later, the West Indies fast bowlers would leave batsmen fearing for their lives.
These were the pre-helmet days and it was indeed a miracle that cricket did not see too many fatalities despite the fact that the protective equipment was not as effective as it is today. What stood out then was the technique of the batsmen.
It was a 100 years after the introduction of the abdomen guard that the helmet made its appearance on a cricket field.
Soon, it became a necessity to such an extent that a batsman like Sachin Tendulkar would wear a helmet even against the spinners, evidently out of habit than out of fear for the bowler.
But Hughes’s misfortune will change the way batsmen approach protective equipment in days to come.
The game has seen many batsmen who played the hook shot compulsively, especially the Australians.
To watch West Indians Roy Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharan fearlessly smashing fast bowlers behind square was one of the biggest thrills on the cricket field.
Even Mohinder Amarnath, his shirt soaked in blood, returning to the crease after being hit by Malcom Marshall, to hook the same bowler first ball for a six was exhilarating.
Just as fascinating to watch were the evasive actions of batsmen, Sunil Gavaskar most memorably, against the likes of Jeff Thomson, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding.
Watching the vintage duel between Viv Richards and Dennis Lillee can be a hair-raising experience even today. How can one forget Gavaskar, hit on the skull by Marshall in the West Indies, playing the next ball majestically, straight past the bowler!
Hughes was not engaged in any battle of supremacy or attrition with the New South Wales bowlers. He saw the ball dug short and went for the hook, only to connect air. It was a fatal miss that cost his life, leaving the bowler and the rest shocked and devastated.
Will Sean Abbott bowl a bouncer ever again? Time alone will tell.
But cricket shall forever mourn the death of a young batsman at the crease.