As I struggled to come to grips with the untimely death of Phillip Hughes this past week, I thought of the words of the spiritual master, Amit Ray, who said, “It does not matter how long you are spending on earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters.”
The response from around the world has been staggering. His death has stopped the Australian nation in an unprecedented way. This has been Australia’s Princess Diana moment.
As the events of the week unfolded, I pondered what we can learn from this tragic accident and I came to realize that what we must take from this is the legacy of how Phillip lived his life.
Phillip Hughes was someone who attacked life and his beloved cricket with passion; he never complained if breaks didn’t go his way and he approached each day with a belief that tomorrow would be better than today.
If he liked someone, he would give them everything that he had; if he didn’t, he would stay out of their way and let them get on with their life. Phillip didn’t waste time gossiping. Ironically, he thought life was too short to waste on negativity.
As a batsman, Phillip was unique. His homespun method was unlike any other, but he had a drive to make runs that few players have possessed.
I always believed that he would make it to the highest level because he had made runs, lots of them, at every level on the way up. I had no doubt that he was going to find a way to do it whenever that next opportunity arose.
Already, in the 26 Tests that he played, he had shown what he was capable of, if he got a start. I had no doubt that he would do more of that in the future.
Phillip’s method, hewn on the family farm in Macksville, was not the main reason that he had succeeded as a batsman. His indomitable spirit, positive approach and hunger to make runs were his greatest assets.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with Phillip, but when I did I was struck by his cheekiness and zest for life, his love for his family and his beloved cattle back on the farm. His passion for cricket was only marginally stronger than his desire to breed champion cattle.
I only talked batting with Phillip on a few occasions, but on those occasions I realized that we shared a similar philosophy. We both believed that we had a bat in our hands for one reason and one reason only and that was to score runs; defence was the last option.
This attitude defined him as a batsman. It was his greatest strength and it was his greatest weakness. He was working hard on adding to his leg-side repertoire to make it harder for opponents to stop him scoring and to even out the bumps in his batting career.
If one is to make it against the best bowlers in the world, one has to keep developing one’s method or the bowlers and opposition captains will find ways to dry up the runs.
Phillip was largely an off-side player when he burst onto the Test scene as a 20-year-old. His preference was to stay to the leg side of the ball and slash anything short or slightly wide of off stump through the off side; usually square or backward of square.
Soon, opposition sides began to bowl much straighter and fuller to him. This attack dried up his output and made him more vulnerable to dismissal when the ball was angled across his body, as Chris Martin did so well in the 2011/12 series in Australia.
Phillip was working on making this approach less successful against him and appeared to be making good progress. He was never going to be Brian Lara or Adam Gilchrist, but he was becoming a better version of Phillip Hughes.
Much has been made of the incident in Sydney that brought about his demise, but whichever way one looks at it, it was a freakish accident. The bowler banged it in on what was a slow, almost dead pitch. The ball rose as if in slow motion and Phillip completed the shot before the ball arrived.
Having completed the shot, Phillip had rotated around to the leg side which exposed the left side of his neck to the ball. In that position, according to the specialist who attended to him, the vertebral artery, which carries the main blood supply to the brain stem, was exposed to the full force of the ball and it split. The resultant bleed into the brain was fatal.
None of this makes the game more dangerous than it was before Phillip’s death, but it does show that batting has its dangers and no amount of protective equipment can ensure that batsmen are completely safe.
Phillip would not want anyone to stop playing the game that he loved so much because of what happened to him.
It is appropriate, though, that we all pause and consider the life of a warm and humble young man who played the game with joy. It is also fitting that we grieve and spare a thought for his family and those who loved him. But we will honour him more if we take a leaf out of his book and play the game and live our lives the way that he lived his.
As can be seen by the outpouring of love and affection for Phillip this week, he has left behind his fair share of positive vibrations; and a game that cares for those who play it with true joy in their hearts.