On Thursday the world of cricket was brought to a standstill with the passing of Phillip Hughes. During a Sheffield Shield match between South Australia and New South Wales an errant bouncer bowled by Sean Abbott collided with Hughes’ head and neck, knocking the South Australia man unconscious. Two days later Hughes sadly passed away of what doctors described as a subarachnoid haemorrhage, just three days before his 26th birthday. What followed was an outpouring of support and condolences from friends and colleagues throughout world cricket, such was his impact on his teammates and compatriots.
As tributes continue, particularly with Hughes’ funeral on Wednesday, cricketers worldwide have already demonstrated a palpable and admirable sense of community and unity. Australia’s national side have declared that Hughes’ one day international shirt number of 64 has been retired in a gesture of respect and remembrance, while the scorecard of his final match has been movingly revised so that it forever remains “63 not out”. Australia captain Michael Clarke made a public statement reflecting on his time with the man he called his “brother”, describing him as a “loyal and generous teammate” and claiming to be “a better man for having known him”, before eulogising his friend with an excerpt from Thomas Osbert Mordaunt’s ‘The Call’ which reads “One hour of crowded life is worth an age without a name”.
In the wake of Hughes’ passing increased focus has been placed on regulations used to ensure the safety of cricketers. The ball bowled made contact with Hughes in an area unprotected by his helmet, below the ear towards the side and back of his neck, and so possible alterations to the design of safety equipment might ensure that in the future such circumstances might be prevented. Revisions to the helmet to include a more full-face design, similar to those worn in ice hockey, might reduce instances of direct contact with the player and improve the chances of protection in cases of contact between bowl and batter. While a challenging redesign, as safety needs have to be matched with unencumbered player mobility – being unable to move the head, the primary concern with covering the neck, reduce visibility and lead to further incidents – experts including cricketing legend Nasser Hussain have called for helmets to provide “complete protection”, particularly with regards to the neck given the natural instinct to “turn away ” from an onrushing ball to protect the face.
There has also been an increased consideration of safety in amateur cricket, with helmet sales rising exponentially following the incident.
As well as the statements offered in memory of Hughes, cricket’s community, including Clarke and Cricket Australia director Michael Kasprowicz, have rallied around Abbott, who must face coming to terms with the incident. Emotionally challenged by the situation, Abbot was seen leaving Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital hours after Hughes’s passing, and has been offered counselling. Aged just 22, players both past and present have called for Abbott to receive any and all support possible. In the same open letter in which he praised his departed friend Clarke wrote of the paramount importance that Abbott be cared for in the aftermath of Hughes’ passing, rightly stating that “he deserves our full support … he will absolutely have mine whenever he needs it”. Casting a much needed light on the role of counselling in moments such as this, Abbott’s case highlights how both the support of the sporting community and the increasingly prevalent role of counselling and therapy in professional sports might benefit those in extraordinary circumstances.
In the wake of Hughes’ passing players and fans worldwide have united in mourning the popular figure, highlighting the evident sense of community and mutual support incumbent in world cricket. Clarke, in particular, has demonstrated grace, dignity and respect in his response and support for both Hughes and Abbott throughout. With touching sentiments continuing to be offered and the potential for some productive changes to be yielded, Hughes’ memory is preserved in the hearts and minds of friends, colleagues and fans alike, while leaving a legacy of improved safety that might save lives in the future.
What productive steps may be taken in the aftermath of this incident?