Adelaide turns out for its adopted son
The Chappell Stand at the Adelaide Oval, by the steps that players take to and from the stadium, is a great place to watch a square cut. A right-hand batsman, when the bowling is on from the City End, and a left-hand batsman when facing a bowler running in from the Cathedral End. At around 1.55pm Adelaide time, towards the end of the service for Phillip Hughes in Macksville, being shown live on the big screen at the Adelaide Oval, a montage showcases a lovely picture. Hughes has backed away from the stumps. The ball seems neither short nor wide. For Hughes has gone really low and away from the stumps, his rear is almost on the ground. It is an extremely unnatural position to play a cricket shot from. Hughes has executed it perfectly; he has created his own length and his own line. He is even wearing the red South Australia helmet.
To watch it from the Chappell Stand in a photo, and not being played live before your eyes as you usually would do when you come to the Adelaide Oval, is a cricketing experience more surreal and poignant than most. Around 2000 Adelaide people - including the South Australia men and women teams - walked into the stands of Hughes' adopted home ground to watch the service from Macksville, to celebrate the life of Hughes and pay their last tributes to the man whose death has brought to fore the sentimental side of a country known for being tough and uncompromising in sport and in life.
Two thousand kilometres from the actual service - which these folks could have easily watched on TV at home but decided to come out to the ground to witness - people laughed as Hughes' cousin Nino Ramunno regaled with stories of how Hughes didn't know how to calculate his own average, and how his only problem with Homebush Boys School, where he studied for a year, was that there were no girls there. Brother Jason Hughes' eulogy left quite a few wiping their eyes. Chances are, most of the people present at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday didn't ever have a personal interaction with Hughes. Yet it was as if they had all lost something personal.
In a fair world, Hughes would have been square-cutting at the Gabba nets, preparing for a comeback into the Test side, ready to add to his 26 caps. He would have taken the injured Michael Clarke's place in the side. In the real world, Clarke was bidding farewell to his "little brother", and might not recover emotionally even if his hamstring heals in time for the first Test, which has been pushed back by five days and, incidentally, shifted to the Adelaide Oval.
People in the stands at the Adelaide Oval themselves had knots in their throats, as Clarke choked while trying to read out his eulogy. Eyes moistened as Clarke spoke of the time he walked into the middle at the SCG, "now forever the place where he fell". Nobody was left unmoved as Clarke said: "I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass, I swear he was with me. Picking me up off my feet to check if I was okay. Telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea. Telling me off for that loose shot I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night. And then passing on a useless fact about cows."
People were allowed to walk to the square of the Adelaide Oval after the service finished in Macksville. Stumps had been erected at the main pitch with a bouquet of flowers right down its middle. More tributes rested on the stumps. A kangaroo flag appeared on the fence at the square. A soft-toy cow was thrown in by somebody. A cricket ball with 408 written on it.
A couple of kids pulled out a tennis ball, and began to play at the edge of the field. It was in keeping with the message sent across by almost every speaker at the service. After Jason promised his brother that he will look after their parents and sister, he added that he would "get back on the horse and play the game we both loved". Clarke said they must "dig in and get through to tea", and play on. Hughes would have approved.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo