History records that only two men in almost 150 years have died as a result of being hit on the head by a cricket ball during a first-class match.
It is a statistic which helps to explain the deep level of shock being felt around the cricket-playing world at the death of Philip Hughes.
It is a dangerous game, naturally. We learn that soon after we start playing it – and we are reminded often enough by teammates, opposition, school teachers and coaches – but not that dangerous. Not death.
Every life taken prematurely is a tragedy and there have been many taken from the world of sport in accidents off the field of play. Car and plane crashes have been to blame, not to mention sudden heart attacks. They are hard enough to digest but the impact of the loss is just so much greater when sportsmen die during competition because it happens so rarely. Happening in public also makes it so much more shocking.
People are dying in the most barbaric and unimaginable ways every day, so why are so many people so shattered by Hughes’ appalling fate? They are torn to shreds by shrapnel, poisoned by toxic gas in Syria, beheaded in the Middle East…but that’s exactly the point.
To the vast majority of us, the fate of those wretched people really is unimaginable. They are so gruesome as to exist beyond our range of senses.
On the contrary, Philip Hughes was playing a game of cricket at one of the world’s oldest and most iconic cricket grounds. Being a first-class game, he was wearing ‘whites’ – like doctors and bishops and other people of innocence and gravitas.
He was felled before our very eyes, if not ‘live’ then later on innumerable media platforms.
He never made an enemy in the game and had more friends than most. His permanent smile and popularity increased our sense of disbelief. So did the fact that he was among the elite and, by all accounts, was set to play in the injured Michael Clarke’s place in the first test against India next week.
The first batsman to die at the crease was George Summers, playing for Nottinghamshire against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1870. Like Hughes, he was 25-years-old. The bowler, John Platts, never played another match and never returned to the ground.
But the game carried on, bouncers and all, and it will do so again. Philip Hughes will never, ever be forgotten. If his name becomes synonymous with the need for batsmen to check their safety equipment and never take their safety for granted, it just may be the case that Philip Joel Hughes will help prevent many more serious injuries in the future, if not deaths.
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