The afternoon of November 25th, 2014 was a lazy one in Sydney, NSW, Australia. It was a scorching Tuesday, just on the onset of the Australian summer. A cricket match was being played between South Australia and New South Wales in the famed Sydney Cricket Ground, a match that was part of the group stage of the Sheffield Shield, the Australian regional cricket tournament . A few thousand were in the crowd, an average attendance for a midweek Shield clash. All in all it appeared to be a normal day.
But this day was quite far from normal. At 2:22 PM Sydney time, Phillip Joel Hughes, a rising star in Aussie cricket, was batting with 63 runs to his name, a fantastic innings that would surely ensure him in the national squad for the upcoming international match against India. The South Australian batsman was playing against his former team: New South Wales, a team that included another rising star- 22 year old fast-bowler (pitcher) Sean Abbott. The next ball Abbott bowled was a bouncer, a delivery in cricket that is meant to intimidate batsmen by launching a 90-95 MPH cricket ball that gears up and passes by you at head height. Nothing malicious is meant by these deliveries, they’re routine “pitches” that batsman either duck out off or defend away.
The bouncer that Abbott bowled at 2:23 PM appeared to be yet another routine bouncer, but as Hughes attempted to play a hook shot, essentially swing the bat in a hooking manner, pushing the ball to his left, he mistimed his swing, a swing he had made numerous times before. The 95 MPH ball struck Phillip Hughes just below his helmet on the left rear side of his head. Hughes bent over, obviously reeling from the impact, but then suddenly collapsed straight onto the field. The gravity of the situation was instantly realized. A motorized stretcher took him off the field to a waiting helicopter that took him straight to St. Vincent’s hospital in downtown Sydney. Surgery was performed that day but he still remained in critical condition. He never regained consciousness. Two days later, on November 27th Phillip Hughes passed away, 3 days short of his 26th birthday.
While Hughes’ death is said to be an “anomaly,” an extremely rare incident, the fact that he was wearing a helmet when he was struck is truly concerning. I have seen many bouncers come at me, and I’ve never been concerned with any of them. But next time I step into the crease (batters box), I’ll be slightly wary about the next delivery: could it kill someone? Hughes was a great guy with an even better instinct for cricket. His batting was a treat to watch and it will be sorely missed. But amid all of this memoriam and mourning, spare a thought for Sean Abbott, the bowler who bowled the ultimately fatal delivery to Hughes. No one blames him for Hughes’ death but the bowler is quite distraught and it will be seen if he can ever return mentally to playing cricket.
This tragedy should never repeat itself again in cricket. But I would hate to see bouncers, an integral part of cricket, removed from the game. This unfortunate situation is akin to another incident more familiar to American sports fans: the 97 MPH ball that struck Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Chapman survived but the situation led to a major push for the MLB to provide helmets for pitchers as well. Again, the fact that Hughes was wearing a helmet did not prevent his death. Maybe it is time to redesign cricketing helmets, extending it to cover the entire neck. R.I.P Phillip Hughes, you will be sorely missed.