At the risk of this blog turning into a series of obituaries, I feel I should say something about the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, who has died two days after being struck on the head with a cricket ball during a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG.
That this is a terrible tragedy doesn’t need repeating by me; at 25 years of age and with a talent that the Australian selectors didn’t fully appreciate, it is a dreadful shame.
But there are two things that I would like to say. Firstly, among the outpourings of sympathy on social media – which is in danger of turning Diana-esque – few people have mentioned that a year ago Australian cricket fans and media were roaring with enthusiasm at Mitchell Johnson when he was bowling extremely fast bouncers at the English batsmen, with many wishing them physical harm and squealing with delight every time a ball thudded into English flesh or bone. Not that I blame Mitchell Johnson: he did what anyone with that sort of pace would do, but given how the whole country were happy for him to do it to English batsmen I’m finding it a little hollow that the dangers of aiming bouncers at batsmen’s heads is only now being seen as a problem. Naturally the Sydney Morning Herald chooses to illustrate an article entitled Time to ban the bouncer? with a photo of Stuart Broad hitting Chris Rogers in the last Ashes and not the snarling Mitchell Johnson close-up that dominated the media at the time. Hypocrisy, much?
Secondly, I was extremely surprised that a batsmen could suffer such an injury, let alone a fatal one. Broken noses, smashed ribs, rattled jaws yes; but a fatal blow to the head is something I thought was barely possible. But then I read that Hughes had attempted to play a hook shot and been hit by the ball – a bouncer – as it rose off the pitch. And then I read that the ball had struck him on the side/back of the head, behind the side guards which cover the ears. I suspect he went for the hook, swivelled, and was facing away from the bowler when the ball struck him. Everyone mis-times strokes, but to mis-time this badly is incredible at Sheffield Shield level: I am still wondering if the video of the incident (which I’ve not looked for, but investigators will have a copy) will show he didn’t even see it coming. The reason the helmet didn’t protect him is that it is not designed with the expectation that the back of the head will be exposed to the ball; it assumes all impacts will come from the front or angled at the side. I have no idea why Hughes would attempt to play such a clearly unbalanced and mis-timed shot, but the Australian batting style of recent years seems to be to smash anything and everything out of the ground regardless. Aggressive bowling is probably what everyone will focus on here but fast bouncers have been part of the game for decades. What is new is the expectation that such deliveries can be smashed with a haymaker that unbalances the batsman and leaves him facing the wrong way when the ball arrives. Over-aggressive batting, in other words.
Finally, spare a thought for the bowler Sean Abbott. There is not a soul on the planet who will blame him for this accident, but he will surely blame himself for the rest of his life. I hope he does okay.
As TNA points out in the comments, the media coverage of this in Australia is turning into a circus. This article by 9 News is a case in point:
Michael Clarke has often been the man for a crisis but never before has he stood so strong.
The Australian Test captain has earned plaudits for leading like never before, in a situation so removed from his post, while grieving himself for his close friend Phillip Hughes.
Clarke was singled out for praise by Australian team doctor Peter Brukner for being a rock of support for Hughes’ parents – Greg and Virginia – and siblings Megan and Jason in the bedside vigil at St Vincents Hospital.
It was Clarke who read a statement by the devastated family to a packed press conference at the hospital late Thursday, before having to walk away as emotion overcame him.
Dr Brukner then fought back tears as he credited the captain for providing strength and loving support desperately required in a time of need and sadness.
“Phillip has always been a little brother to Michael,” Dr Brukner said.
“Michael’s efforts over the last 48 hours to support the family; the family was obviously going through a difficult time but I’m not sure they would have coped without Michael’s assistance.
“I was just enormously impressed at the work he did and the genuine care and love he gave to the Hughes family.”
Look, Michael Clarke is a good bloke, a great captain, and a fantastic cricketer. That is well known already, and if his close relationship with Phil Hughes was not already obvious to some and needed to be highlighted, his role in support of Hughes and his family during the last few days is worthy of a solemn mention, not reams of gibbering tripe like that above. This is little more than an attempt to put Clarke on a pedestal as some sort of guardian angel to the Hughes martyr, driving on this “nation united by grief” meme which has been in vogue since Diana’s death and is peddled by an unattractive combination of a population desperate to show they “care” and a media desperate to shift more copy. Clarke doesn’t need to be put on a pedestal: he is doing his job well, both on and off the field, as is expected. Note this by all means, but spare us the soap opera.