At 2:23 pm a year ago today, on the third ball of the 49th over in a match between NSW and South Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a terrible thing happened.
Batsman Phillip Hughes was felled by a bouncer and collapsed on the pitch. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital two days later with loved-ones at his bedside.
Not much has changed in cricket since then. Helmets have been slightly modified with safety in mind, but fast bowlers still bowl bouncers, as Hughes himself would surely have insisted they do. Phillip Hughes wanted to change the game of cricket on the field, not off it.
Much will be written and said this week, particularly on Friday which is the anniversary of Phillip’s death. Friday is also the start of a new Test match, played for the first time under day/night conditions with a pink ball.
It will be an occasion with an eye both to the future and the recent past. A day for celebration and for reflection.
Today, we thought we’d commemorate a moment that shocked Australia with a simple anecdote that tells you something about who Phillip Hughes was.
This reporter doesn’t pretend to have known Phillip well, but I spent a couple of days with him and his family back in 2009 when writing a feature story for a magazine, after his triumphant debut tour of South Africa with the Australian Test team.
We stayed in touch after that story and I helped Phillip with a blog on a later tour with the Australian team. Like I say, though, I didn’t know him well. There would have been a thousand people in his family and friendship circles and ten thousand people in Australian cricket and media circles he’d have been closer to than me.
Yet one day at the SCG, Phillip Hughes made me feel like the most important person in the world. It was the Sydney Test of January 2011, which Australia ended up losing by an embarrassing margin to England. The mood in and around the Australian dressing room was not exactly jovial. This was a time to wear your game face.
So imagine my delight as I walked past the Australian dressing rooms, on a mission from somewhere to somewhere, and a voice called out “G’day Ant!”.
I scanned the stands but couldn’t see any familiar faces. The voice called out again. And there, on the balcony outside the front of the Australian dressing rooms, was Phillip Hughes with that trademark ear-to-ear grin. Never mind the cricket. The bloke could have grinned for Australia.
I hadn’t seen him for about 18 months, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure Phillip Hughes would remember my name the next time we met. But the fact he called out illustrates the person he was. He loved life, he loved people, and he wasn’t self-absorbed.
Well, apart from his appearance. As Phillip’s cousin Nino Ramunno observed in his eulogy, “he certainly loved a mirror”.
I actually went out with Hughes once and it’s true, he definitely wasn’t averse to spending time on his appearance. But no matter how well he scrubbed up, his real beauty was on the inside. That sounds corny as hell but it’s true. Cricketers can be mean-spirited people. Phillip Hughes was the opposite. He was generous and he never complained about anything.
There are a couple of excellent stories doing the rounds today which celebrate the work of the players, ambos and other medical staff at the SCG who did what they could to save Phillip. Their stories deserve retelling on this day.
But the real hero in our books was Hughes himself. The 25-year-old was a truly gentle, gentlemanly soul who lived a life untouched by cynicism, pessimism, narcissism and any other negative kind of “ism” you care to name.
Our thoughts are with Phillip’s family and friends on this difficult day.