The death of Phillip Hughes

An event that shook cricket up like no other

Brydon Coverdale

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A bouncer, an attempted hook shot, and a minuscule misjudgement. From those seemingly innocuous ingredients came one of the most tragic on-field occurrences in cricket history.

Phillip Hughes, a Test opener with 26 first-class hundreds, and a man who a month earlier had been in Australia's Test squad, was struck on the neck while batting on 63 in a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG in November 2014. A few moments later, he fell to the ground. He never regained consciousness, and died in hospital two days later.

Cricketers had died as the result of on-field incidents before, but seldom, and even more rarely at first-class level. Hughes' death rocked the sport to its core, on several levels. Firstly, he was a widely loved and respected player, who had made friends wherever he went. Secondly, every cricketer at every level wondered, if a batsman as talented as Hughes could die from a mistimed shot, how safe was the game they were playing?

Sixty-three special bats were displayed at the SCG on the day of Hughes' funeral © Getty Images

The response was immediate and overwhelming. A day of Test cricket between New Zealand and Pakistan, halfway around the world in the UAE, was postponed. "Put out your bats" became a way for everyone, everywhere, to honour Hughes. The start of Australia's Test series was delayed. His funeral was televised live.

In the longer term, hefty questions needed answering. Was anyone to blame? An inquest said no. Could player safety be improved? Yes. Emergency procedures at matches are now more rigorously planned, the rules around use of helmets have been tightened, and a push towards concussion substitutes continues.

Fundamental questions also arose. Could cricket ever be played as hard again? And would bowlers be willing to use bouncers anymore? The answers, clearly, have been yes and yes. In some ways cricket has changed, but the events of November 2014 can never be forgotten. And nor can Hughes, who remains forever 63 not out.

Brydon Coverdale is a former assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo @brydoncoverdale



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