Phil Hughes’ passing, a reminder of life’s uncertainty

A close up of the plaque commemorating Phil Hughes at SCG
A plaque commemorating Phil Hughes outside the home team dressing room in Sydney Cricket Ground

November 27, 2014: You didn’t have to know Australian batsman Phil Hughes to be shaken by news of his death after a two-day battle in hospital upon being hit by a cricket ball in a Sheffield Shield game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The world of cricket – players, coaches and other support staff, match officials, administrators, media persons and fans alike – will be united in grief.

Over the past two days, there was hope that the kiss of life that Dr Orchard gave Hughes on the hallowed cricket pitch in Tuesday would have worked in his favour. There was expectation that Hughes’ will to battle for life would be as strong as his determination that fetched him two hundreds in just his second Test. There was faith that the doctors would help him pull through.

It took but a moment – and a text message from a friend in Australia – for those positive emotions, fuelled by an outpouring of prayers by the cricket world at large, to change to shock.

Of course, the wise have told us that death is the most certain event in one’s life. But such philosophy comes as little consolation when the end comes as an accident with tragic overtones. More so, if the victim is in the flush of youth. Surely, 25 is no age to die. Surely, a blow received on the cricket field is not a reason to be dead.

There is no doubt that Hughes’ death will cloud the impending Test series between Australia and India. You can expect players from both sides to have a grave demeanour for quite some time. As we pick up the pieces and try to move on, the players will be the most challenged by paradoxical needs to be aggressive and yet sombre; combative and yet intensely serious.

We have seen the sceptre of death loom over cricket and the world of sport – some New Zealand left Sri Lanka because of a bomb blast outside the team hotel in Colombo; England played in Mumbai in 1993 weeks after serial bomb blasts; England returned after a short break caused by of a terrorist attack on Mumbai six years ago.

Other grim memories come flooding back.

A strange scorecard entry: ‘Abdul Aziz absent dead’ from the Qaid-E-Azam Trophy final in Karachi in 1959. The decline of Hyderabad batsman C L Jaikumar after what seemed to be a good start to a first-class career after he was felled by a Robin Singh bouncer in a 1990 Ranji Trophy game in which he had made 169 in the first innings and was on 42 in the second.

But the worst recall is that of former India opener Raman Lamba’s death in February 1998. One can feel the shivers down the spine when thinking of a dark, cold, rainy night when Lamba’s body was brought to Delhi from Dhaka. Instead of walking through the arrival hall, he returned in a coffin in the cargo terminal with a few family and friends in attendance.

Hughes’ death has lessons, not the least being the establishment of emergency response teams at venues. Perhaps, with greater monies coming in to cricket, the international centres go beyond having an ambulance on stand-by to exploring possibilities of instituting a medical centre within the premises so that no time is lost in providing the best aid to an injured player.

May the world of cricket grieve together as one but long may the game remain beautiful as we have known it. For it is but a reflection of the lives we live, a heady mix of pain and pleasure, agony and ecstasy, joyous and grim and all that lies between. But, above all, may Phillip Joel Hughes’ soul find lasting peace.

(This piece was written three years ago for a now defunct website)

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.