By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published December 1, 2014
In memory of Phillip Joel Hughes, a true gladiator
I haven’t had the guts to view the Phil Hughes blow from Sean Abbot’s bouncer a few days ago, simply because of the memories it would unearth and how lucky I’ve been in the past.
A DARK DAY
Cricket, the gentleman’s game, has its dark side and dark days. The dark side in recent years has involved the much-hushed match-fixing or spot-fixing sagas. Last week, however, when Phil Hughes was hit in the head by a bouncer while attempting a hook shot, it saw the return of cricket’s dark days. The storm cloud was at the doorstep of every cricketer and fan: the possibility of death on the cricket pitch.
If you have played any form of organized cricket, you have received a blow or two from a cricket ball while batting or fielding. I recall two such personal instances. One day in the nets at the University of the West Indies, a friend of mine, while bowling a ball, sent what we call a ‘beamer’ inadvertently directly to my head that left me briefly unconscious. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I must have been mad. Thankfully, four of my teammates were doctors and attended to me quickly. I was lucky, really lucky.
I can also speak to another freak accident in high school that resulted in a blow to my left eye that rendered me partially blind for almost three days. The first thing I did when I returned to school a few days later, still partially blind, was not to catch up on classes missed, but to bat, and bat until the fear went away.
OVERCOMING THE MIND
Giving in to the fear was the last thing I wanted to do. It took me days, weeks, and months of retraining my body, and more so freeing my mind, of the fear or tendency to hesitate when the ball pitched about the same spot it did when I was struck. Nevertheless, it never truly went away. Every so often, while batting, my body or mind involuntarily went back to that day and I would hesitate in the millisecond I have to respond with a shot.
PHIL VS PHIL
Phil Hughes was in critical condition in the hospital when I began writing this article. People wonder if he can return to cricket and/or live a normal life after this incident, like another Phil, West Indian Phil Simmons. However, while penning this sentence, the news of Phil Hughes’ death met my ears.
Those with the stomach to look at the video clip of his last shot attempt to Abbott’s bouncer have said that the helmet couldn’t have prevented this blow. He was struck in the neck or head just below where the helmet is designed to protect. I’m heartbroken.
2 DAYS, 2 PLAYERS, 2 LIVES INTERTWINED
It was on October 5, 2014 that Hughes and Abbott both shared debuts for Australia in a Twenty20 International against Pakistan. A moment every cricketer remembers and treasures, his first match for his country. Hughes and Abbott, fortunately, shared that moment together. On November 25, 2014, they both shared unwillingly in another moment that has now shaped their lives and careers forever. Phil Hughes is now dead and Abbott is obviously gutted. It’s been 52 days between triumph and heartbreak.
India’s superstar batsman Virat Kohli tweeted last Tuesday: “Fight it out, mate. You are a top man”. Popular cricket commentator and former cricketer David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd tweeted, “C’mon, Phil Hughes …you can do this”. In the end, Hughes fought, he fell but never yielded. “Fortis cadere, cedere non potest” (The brave may fall but never yield). A true gladiator!
The tweets that resonated with me the most, initially, were those of Australian, Marcus North and former English player, Mike Selvey. They encouraged everyone to remember Abbott, “(Sean Abbott) Stay strong mate” and “He (Abbott) will need support as well”. The Hughes’ family as well as Abbott’s family will need our support in these coming days, months, and years. It is a tough road ahead.
In 1975, England’s Peter Lever bowled a bouncer that struck Ewen Chatfield in the temple. Chatfield swallowed his tongue and his heart stopped. He was stretchered, unconsciously, off the field. Lever was inconsolable despite the efforts of his teammates. Luckily, Chatfield was resuscitated a few hours later and continued his career in the years to come.
Lever was quoted as saying “I honestly thought I had killed him as I saw him lying there … I felt sick and ashamed … and all I could think when I got back to the pavilion was that I wanted to retire”. I truly hope that Abbott’s teammates, family, and friends can reassure him like Lever’s teammates, and even Chatfield attempted to tell Lever, “It’s not your fault”. It truly isn’t Sean.
GLADIATORS, NOT ACTORS
I’ve seen my fair share of deaths in the sporting arena, whether in football, Formula One racing (Senna and others), NASCAR racing (Dale Earnhardt Sr.), among others. Sports are primarily done to entertain; however, as we have always known, it can also be life and death.
We often hear fans and commentators exaggerate sports figures as gladiators. However, in this case, it is true. Popular football commentator Ray Hudson once said, “it’s gladiators out there man … not Hollywood stars and actors”. In cricket, batsmen over the years and now the late Phil Hughes are true gladiators.
RIP, young warrior.
Footnote: Yesterday would have been Phil Hughes 26th birthday. In 2009, Phil Hughes received the Steve Waugh Medal, the Sheffield Player of the Year Award and the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year Award.
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” Column in the Western Mirror (Published Monday, December 1, 2014)