Phillip Hughes played 26 test matches, made 26 first-class centuries and died just days before his 26th birthday, following a freak accident while playing for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield game against New South Wales last week. Phillip Hughes's death was the result of terrible luck. The injury that he suffered was an incredibly rare one, with only a hundred cases having been identified in the medical literature and only one previously in a cricket match.
Phillip Hughes is not the only one suffering from this bad luck. Sean Abbott, who bowled the bouncer that struck Hughes, was simply doing his job as a fast bowler, providing a gripping contest between the speed and aggression of bowler and the bravery and skill of batsman. Luck, good or bad, plays a greater role in our lives than we would often like to admit. This is no less true of cricket, the game that is often claimed to be a metaphor for life. In their analysis of cricketer performances, economists Shekhar Aiyar and Rodney Ramcharan look at debuts. They look at players whose test debut was at home and those whose test debut was overseas. It is a stroke of luck where you debut, but they find that the challenges are quite different. So an Indian batsman who debuts at home expects the cracks that emerge on Indian pitches in the later days of a test match but might not be prepared for Australia's bouncier wickets. It turns out that, if you debut at home, you score one-third more runs and, over your career, one-fifth more runs.
So luck has affected every career of a test cricketer, and in some ways Phillip Hughes was lucky. He got a break at a young age and bucked the trend of players that struggle if they debut overseas, because he made his debut in a test series against South Africa, in Johannesburg in 2009. It was his second test match against South Africa, in Durban, for which he will be remembered. He scored 115 runs in the first innings and 160 in the second to clinch the three-match series for Australia. Phillip Hughes's centuries made him part of one of the most exclusive clubs in cricket history. In 137 years of cricket test history, only 63 players have scored centuries in both innings of a test match. Sixty-three. His achievement was even more remarkable for the fact that Hughes was only 20 years old at the time, the youngest man to achieve the feat in cricket test history.
His career was not perfect; few are. His technique was unorthodox and he had been in and out of the Australian team. By the time of his death, he was fighting to regain a spot in our test team. But his performances were remarkable. He was one of only four Australians to have scored multiple centuries by their 21st birthday. The other three were Neil Harvey, Doug Walters and Don Bradman.
When young people die, we cannot help but think of the promise unfulfilled. This is the second condolence speech I have given this year in this place on a young man, full of potential, dying shy of his 26th birthday. Who knows what heights Phillip Hughes could have reached had his career not been cut tragically short. How many more runs to score, victories to savour and fans to delight?
For Phillip Hughes's family—his mother, Virginia, father, Greg, sister, Megan, and brother, Jason—it will not be his unfulfilled professional potential that they will miss but the presence of a cherished member of their family. There is no meaning to be found in death like this. It was a tragic accident. But we can take comfort from the way it has brought us together as a community.
But we can take comfort from the way it has brought us together as a community—the heartfelt tributes by cricket and sporting fans across the world, including here in our cricketing community in Canberra, and the bats left out across Australia.
In the under-13 game on Saturday between Canberra Grammar and Daramalan College, Grammar batsmen Felix Ford and Oliver Phillips both retired on 63 not out—Phillip Hughes's final score. Felix's mum, Simonetta Astolfi, said: 'The players were talking about it a lot. The mood was pretty sombre. But by the end of the of the day, the kids were energised and playing for a purpose.'
That ambivalence Simonetta Astolfi speaks about will be familiar to cricket fans around the country as we look forward to a summer of cricket -- forever tainted by the tragedy of Phillip Hughes's death. Cricket is a great Australian pastime and Phillip Hughes was a highly skilled, enthusiastic and joyful cricketer. We will fondly remember his triumphs and rue the innings he will never get to play. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
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