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3 years on from Phil Hughes

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The death of Australian cricketer, Phillip Joel Hughes. These eight words still give me goosebumps, whether heard or read. Three years have passed since that most wretched day in cricket, and a lot has changed. Apart from one thing: the trauma of losing a close mate still haunts the Australian cricketers. These men are arguably the strongest lot in cricket; they display themselves as thick-skinned on the field and show neither sympathy nor soft feeling for opponents.

But these players went to bits during that dark Australian summer of 2014, when they lost the 25-year-old Phil Hughes. On November 25, he was struck by a ball on the side of his head and collapsed immediately on the ground. He received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before being rushed to Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, where he underwent a surgery and was placed into an induced coma. Sadly, the injury was lethal and two days later, he breathed his last.

The fatal incident happened despite Hughes wearing a helmet. The helmet had not been designed to protect the area just below his left ear. The ball struck that unprotected area, resulting into a rare sport-related blunt-force cerebrovascular injury called a vertebral artery dissection which led to subarachnoid hemorrhage. Hughes, by then, had become a regular if inconsistent face in the Australian team, in both Tests and ODIs. This match was prior to the India series and Hughes was adamant on returning to the Test side.

The last Test he had played was in the 2013 Ashes in England. Due to a poor string of scores, he was dropped for the next three series. Hughes, who was not among the players who would give up and take the demotivating news easily, went on to regularly score in Australia A matches and was doing fine in the domestic circuit too. In August 2014, then Australian captain and Hughes’ good friend, Michael Clarke had termed the 25-year-old as a 100-Test player and was certain that Hughes was doing everything right to get back to the national side.

Who knew, Clarke and Co would be attending Hughes' funeral three months later?

It was one of those rare funerals that had a live telecast for millions of viewers across the globe. Hughes was not a big name in cricket, but he won hearts with his passion and spirit wherever he played. He had also played County Cricket for Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcestershire. He still remains the only Australian cricketer to have scored a ton on ODI debut and he was the youngest man to score twin hundreds on Test debut.

Post - November 27, 2014

The picture of Hughes collapsing remained in the players’ minds for a long time. The incident not only affected the players who watched Hughes fall during the match, but also Hughes' other friends like David Warner, Clarke, Matthew Wade, Aaron Finch and many others who were family to him. There have been a few incidents of late that have shown that deep (deep deep) down, the emotional impact persists in the Australians.

A few weeks after Hughes' death, Australia played a four-Test home series against India. The horrific memories of the past two weeks thumped the hosts like a storm when a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson hit Virat Kohli's head. Johnson, who had a set image of being one of the fiercest bowlers whom even the best opponents feared, looked absolute terrified for once. Close-in fielders Chris Rogers and David Warner ran to the Indian to check on him.

After Hughes' demise, many fast bowlers cut down on bouncers during their spells. As a tribute to the late cricketer, New Zealand did not bowl a single bouncer in a Test against Pakistan (they still won). It took a relatively long period of time for bouncers to return to the sport.

If this was a change in the sport, the most evident change was among the Australian cricketers. All of a sudden, the blunt and tough guys had begun to show feelings on the field.

Meanwhile, Cricket Australia made it mandatory for players to wear a helmet when facing fast and medium-paced bowling. Wicketkeepers and close fielders would also have to wear helmets in First-Class matches.

Then came two more incidents, which looked far nastier than Kohli's blow. On both occasions, Starc was the bowler. In 2015 ODI series in England, Australian cricketers were left shaken after a ferocious bouncer from Starc bashed England Captain Eoin Morgan's helmet. The impact was such that Morgan fell flat on the ground, a scene that left many Australian cricketers disturbed. The more they have tried to get past Hughes' death, something or the other has occurred to pull them back to square one. Morgan, who retired hurt and did not play in the reminder of the series, fortunately turned out fine.

Old wounds reopened

Two years have passed since the Morgan incident. Gradually, with time, the Aussies have kept that incident off their mind. Once this year’s Ashes began, they immediately got into the groove. Australian Vice-Captain David Warner once again did not hold back with his emotions and spiced up the lead in to the Ashes when he said that the hosts would be motivated by their "hatred" of England and that it would be "war" on the field. There was also the history between Warner and England Captain Joe Root.

One fails to understand how can life's coincidences be so dreadful. During the first Ashes Test in 2017-18 series, Starc hit Root on the head just two days before Hughes' third death anniversary. Let alone the cricketers on the field, even the spectators in the Gabba felt their hearts skip a beat watching the scene. The ball hit Root so hard that it dislodged part of his helmet.

All of a sudden, the war was halted and Warner was among the first to run and check on Root. The scenes captured on the camera clearly showed Starc apologising to Root.

Australians have been known to inflict fear in the opponents; they are famous for needless verbal spats on the field. But Hughes' unfortunate incident has helped this side undergo a major change: as human beings and to being better-spirited cricketers.

Now, the helmets have that extra area protected too, which Hughes' helmet did not. This is why Root was left unhurt and resumed play soon after he received attention from the physio.

 

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