The Sportsman Who Touched A Nation

Australia is a sad place to be today.

The whole country is in mourning. I kid you not.

Flags are flying at half-mast right across this tiny, little continent of ours. Sports people, both professional and amateur, plan to observe a minute’s silence tomorrow and wear black armbands as a sign of remembrance.

Talkback radio is full of callers openly weeping on air.

Now you might be gagging to know what would prompt such a public outpouring of grief?

Was it the death of someone famous or notable? Well that depends on your point of view.

Maybe it’s a celebrity or a well-known politician? Not even close.

Australia is mourning the death of a sportsman.

Of course there are many sports that involve risking life and limb, motor racing, speed boat racing, stunt flying to name a few.

But what this guy died doing wasn’t one of them or anything like it.

He died playing a game of cricket.

To anyone not familiar with the game of cricket, I won’t even try explaining it. Ok, maybe a little.

Think baseball.

Actually, it’s nothing like it.

Ok, sort of. Think of the game of cricket, as the bastard cousin of baseball twice removed.

Cricket, like baseball, has a batter. Actually there are two batters who alternate hitting the ball

But instead of a guy pitching a ball at the batter from a mound, the whole thing is played out on a closely mowed, flat strip of turf, 22 yards long.

The batter stands at one end, the pitcher or bowler at the other.

The bowler then kind of hurls the ball overarm, which lands about three quarters of the way down the pitch bounces up and the batter is supposed to hit it for a score.

There are 10 other players in the outfield, who are there to catch the ball so that they can to retire the batter.

As in baseball, the ball is pitched or bowled extremely quickly, travelling between 80 to 100 miles an hour, so like baseball you need fast reflexes to play the game at this level.

Ok. At this point I’m jumping ahead and assuming that you understand what I am saying. If you can’t, don’t worry. Understanding the game of cricket is not the focus here.

The name of the sportsman is Phillip Hughes and he died two days short of his 26th birthday.

He died doing what he really loved most in the world. I think it’s called living the dream.

He was an extremely talented, extremely humble country boy who loved his family and his mates.

And everyone he met loved him. He had the kind of attributes people admire, open and genuinely friendly, considerate and unselfish. He gave a lot of free time helping and encouraging young cricketers especially those who had the same dream as him to become a professional sportsman playing for Australia.

Phillip Hughes was also very unlucky. He was often a victim of the capriciousness of Australian cricket team selectors.

…..To put it bluntly, he was an in demand rooster one minute, a feather duster the next.

But he never gave up, never gave in. Always working to improve his game, improve his technique to give himself every chance to climb back to the top.

And that’s what he was doing when he died.

Things were going well for Phillip Hughes in a match at one of Australia’s premier sporting arenas, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Then fate intervened as she does without warning. Phillip Hughes was wearing a helmet for protection. Unfortunately for him, on this occasion it was next to useless. A ball travelling around 85 miles an hour struck Hughes just below his left ear. It immediately compressed one of the main arteries that supply blood to the brain. The artery ruptured causing a massive bleed. Hughes collapsed, was rushed to hospital only a kilometer away. He underwent an immediate operation to relieve the pressure on his brain but died 48 hours later without every regaining consciousness.

Only 100 people in the world have died this way. And up until now no one has ever died this way playing the game of cricket.

His death has made just about every Australian incredibly sad. His passing was acknowledged by all of the major political parties in Federal Parliament. Even the Australian Prime Minister recorded a message of public condolence. A special, Government initiated, memorial service will be held for Phillip Hughes.

The intriguing question for me is why?

I don’t think it’s unfair, or churlish, to say Phillip Hughes achieved far greater fame in death than he ever enjoyed in life.

So why are we taking this so personally? Here’s my take on why?

Phillip Hughes represents the quintessential Aussie battler. The diminutive guy from humble origins, with the God given talent, forced to fight every step of the way for recognition. He gets knocked down. He gets up again. He dies a hero’s death at one of Australia’s most famous sporting arenas, having given it his all in the same way that thousands of Australians heroically died on the beaches of Gallipoli, during World War I. Not the same, I know, but you get the idea.

What I am saying here could be complete baloney.

But whatever the reason, there is no doubting or denying the grief and sadness, over the death of Phillip Hughes. It is real and palpable and has brought all of us together. And, not only in Australia but also in several other countries as well. Phillip Hughes managed to touch and reach out to a lot of people. It’s such a shame and a waste that he is not here to appreciate it.